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Rules for Effective Retail Signs

With the 2013 holiday shopping season nearly upon us, formulated these questions from a consumer perspective: What makes a good retail/point-of-purchase (POP) sign? What do people need to do to create an eye-stopping retail environment? We talked with two experts in the field...

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With the 2013 holiday shopping season nearly upon us, formulated these questions from a consumer perspective: What makes a good retail/point-of-purchase (POP) sign? What do people need to do to create an eye-stopping retail environment? We talked with two experts in the field about how they work with their clients to produce effective retail signage for end customers.

“Signs affect the customer experience,” explained Mary Sol Gonzalez, president of the Image360 franchise (formerly called Signs Now, part of Alliance Franchise Brands) in Boca Raton, FL. For shoppers looking for direction and information, the only thing more irritating than a sign that is difficult to find, Gonzalez said, is one that is difficult to read.

The impressive return on investment (ROI) figures for signs cannot be disputed. “Signage is one of the least expensive types of advertising,” said Gonzalez. “A single vehicle graphic can generate up to 16,000 views per day in South Florida.” In addition, she cited University of San Diego studies that show how sales increase up to 5 percent when retailers change an existing sign. On top of that, adding just one additional sign can boost sales another 5 percent.

When it comes to successful signs, a lot of it is common sense, noted Gonzalez. The goal, of course, is to create a need or desire for the product. The product is the star – never the sign itself, she stressed. Using eye-popping, vivid colors and designing cleanly with “white space” are two tactics that come into her mind. “Take into account the purpose of each sign,” Gonzalez urged, “which means understanding clients and their goals.” Four other keys:

  1. Understand the audience.
  2. Make the message easy to understand.
  3. Make signs easy to read – legible and clear. (“This is where the white space comes into play,” Gonzalez noted.)
  4. Placement is critical. “If it’s in a food court, for example, make sure it’s visible, with easy access and able to attract attention from afar,” she said.

Drue Townsend, senior marketing VP at franchisor FastSigns International, agreed. “An effective retail sign needs to be targeted to the right audience with a relevant message,” Townsend said, “and in the right places to be seen (ideally in many places to get noticed).” But beyond discussions about objectives, challenges, and what clients are trying to accomplish, also consider the other communications they may be using -- television, Internet, social media – she advised. “How does the POP complement those?”

Why in store and not online?

“Customers are busy with lots of distractions in the store, not to mention a cell phone in hand, kids with them, etc.,” said Townsend. “There can be a lot of ‘clutter’ in a store or area (products, other graphics, maybe other companies’ graphics),” and it’s easy to get a lot of information online.”

So why do people still place so much importance on POP in the retail environment? Quite simply, because it still works. Research shows that seven of 10 purchase decisions are made at the store. Cyber Monday (December 2 this year) aside, the challenge, Townsend said, is to deliver a better experience in-store to get people to buy at retail as opposed to online. “We recommend being in the environment and experiencing the area like a shopper would to better plan for what will be the best POP elements.” The design needs to be brand-consistent, so that it looks like the other elements in the store, she added.

And the size of a sign also must be consistent with its overall display. Image360 Boca Raton employs two in-house designers to aid in this process. “We are consultants, working together with our clients,” Gonzalez explained. “Sometimes they have an idea or a concept in mind.” However, many times they do not. Either way, she said, “it’s never a cookie-cutter approach.”

Standing out and being different are important, too. “We’ve created a lot of impact with life-size, celebrity photos that are shaped and cut out on our CNC routing machine,” she said. Another difference maker for her firm has been an HP latex printer installed three years ago. “It allows us to match colors perfectly and also offer recyclable materials to big corporations,” Gonzalez said.

‘Always Be Closing’

Remember Alec Baldwin character’s ABC (“Always Be Closing”) lesson in the sales movie “Glengarry Glen Ross:” “At the end of the day, a sign is one more tool to close the sale,” Image360’s Gonzalez concluded. “Being in the store is the last leg of a consumer’s trip. They’re there, they have the money, and they’re ready to buy.” That’s a big part of the reason why she “loves” the new floor graphics, which have been shown to increase sales by nearly 16 percent. “They literally can guide consumers [to products], but they have to be done and laminated the right way.” Gonzalez favors 3M media materials because they don’t get slippery when they get wet, she said.

Another possibility to consider is digital signage, suggested Fast Signs’ Townsend. “Motion attracts the eye,” she explained. “You can have multiple messages [all] targeted to the right audience.”

3 Signs of a Bad Sign

“Do you have to squint to see it?” asked Mary Sol Gonzalez, president of Image360, Boca Raton, FL. That is one sure sign of an ineffective sign, she said. Ill-conceived placement can contribute to this problem. “A sign may be placed too high [up] to read or too low, below the waist.” Two other tip-offs of a bad sign:

  • Is it confusing? The message should be easily understood.
  • Does it look cluttered? Designing with adequate “white space” is a key strategy.