Optimising the use of Retail Signage
There is a fine balance to be struck when choosing and installing retail branding signage. Too little, and customers may be unsure of their way around or how to find key products. Conversely, too much signage can create a cluttered and confusing retail environment where the sheer volume of messages becomes numbing rather than informative. This phenomenon will be familiar to urban motorists, with endless parking notices and traffic signs overwhelming drivers who are already concentrating on several things at once.

These are our ten golden rules for optimising the effectiveness of retail branding signage:

1. Conduct competitor analysis. Rival retailers might have found ingenious workarounds to signage challenges, or their stores may provide an object lesson in things to avoid. Either way, there will be important lessons that can be learned simply by observing their adoption of signage.

2. Put yourself in a customer’s shoes. Having analysed rival stores, consider your own premises. If you were walking in for the first time, what would you want to know? Does the presence of pillars or subdued lighting require additional signage, and are existing signs clearly visible at a good distance from every direction?

3. Use wayfinding sparingly for maximum effectiveness. In a retail environment, key amenities like a café or customer services desk should be clearly identified if there could be confusion about which direction to travel. A small store may only need one Please Pay Here sign if it’s mounted high up and visible from every corner, whereas larger units will benefit from strategically-placed wayfinding in prominent locations.

4. Maintain a house style. A medley of different fonts, coloured backgrounds and sign sizes will be confusing. Try to establish a single colour scheme (ideally relating to your brand or logo) that can be rolled out consistently. It should also identify each sign as belonging to your store, rather than a merchandising tool or third-party sign.

5. Maximise legibility. Use white letters on dark backgrounds, and black or red lettering on lighter backgrounds. Leave plenty of space around each character, to differentiate ‘r n’ from ‘m’, for instance. Title Case is easier to read and interpret than block capitals, and a large sans serif font will be more legible at a distance.

6. Choose key brands to promote with aisle signage. Consider your biggest product lines – such as Caribbean holidays in a travel agent or sunglasses in an optician – and prominently highlight them. People will instinctively know that the Home Baking aisle contains sugar, flour and eggs, without each item requiring its own signage. Of course, this assumes products have been logically ordered in particular categories!

7. Keep POS displays clear and focused. Impulse purchases can be encouraged with POS displays, but these should be focused on key products lines or core messages. In terms of the latter, try to encourage loyalty card adoption or recommend particular services. If customers glance at a gaudy collection of competing messages at the POS desks, they’re unlikely to absorb any of them and may even ‘tune out’.

8. Minimise word counts. Pare messages down to the absolute minimum, ideally between one and four words. It’s often unnecessary to say more than “Menswear Upstairs” or “Pay Here” on signs, and shorter messages will be understood more quickly. If you do need to display informative signage like a refund policy, ensure every word is needed; use bullet points and headings to break up the text.

9. Avoid negativity. A retail experience should be a positive and encouraging one. In the refund policy example above, try to avoid listing what you won’t do in favour of what you will. Imply that the customer experience should be a successful one, but if it isn’t, you will be happy to take remedial action in the form of refunds or exchanges.

10. Proof, proof and proof again. It’s advisable to get two people to proofread every piece of signage text before it’s sent away for printing. Even blue chip retailers can be guilty of displaying signs with poor grammar, missing punctuation or misspelled words. As well as looking amateurish, these errors can diminish the signage’s clarity.