Retail signage is the oldest form of marketing communication.
Evidence shows that signs were a primary form of communication by merchants in ancient times, in areas including Babylon, Egypt, Athens, Pompeii, and Rome. Signs were used to identify a shop, promote prices, and distinguish businesses from their competitors.
If you want to operate a successful retail business that attracts customers and drives sales, you need to get noticed—and that usually starts with signage.
Quality signage is an easy and effective way to drive foot traffic and communicate with your customers when designing your store.
However, if done incorrectly, signage can cause overstimulation and even confusion. Signage in your brick-and-mortar business is just as important as your website design, and retail signage shouldn’t be an afterthought.
This guide will walk you through the basics of business signage, different signage types, and tips for creating signs for your business.
What is retail signage?
Business signage is any type of graphic display that communicates a message to a target audience. It is the most effective and least expensive form of advertising for a small business. Signage includes outdoor signs, window displays, informational signage, digital signage, and more.
Business signage is the first point of real-life interaction between a business and its potential customers. A sign, whether it’s outside or inside your shop, can improve brand recall and encourage people to visit your business.
According to research by the Signage Foundation, signs have a significant positive impact on sales, with over 60% of businesses reporting a 10% increase in sales by adding or updating their signs.
Signs come in all shapes and sizes. Most small businesses have either a wall sign or a pole sign. Regardless, the best signs present customers with clear, concise, and branded messages.
Given the economic importance of business signage, it’s clear you’ll want to use it in your retail store.
The purpose of store signageThere are three main purposes for using signage: advertising and marketing, attracting customers and foot traffic, and guiding customers in-store.
Advertising and marketingSigns are commonly used for advertising and marketing purposes. Billboards are the most common type of sign. These large-scale outdoor ads typically get a lot of foot traffic and attention, with over 82% of US consumers noticing billboards while driving around their town.
There are other signs used for advertising and branding, such as building and vehicle wraps.
Signage plays an important role in the way customers remember and perceive your brand. Attractive signs can create a lasting impression and encourage shoppers to visit your store. It helps communicate what products and services you offer and gives people an idea of what to expect from your business.
Attracting customers and foot traffic
Retail and shop signs are the easiest way to attract shoppers and help them find your business. In fact, 61% of US consumers failed to find a business because its sign was too small or unclear, according to a report by the Sign Research Foundation (SRF)
Consumers learn and assume all sorts of things about your business based on its signage. Your outdoor signage works with window displays to pique curiosity and encourage customers to come inside.
Signs also let people know they are in the right place. If the sign is high quality, it will make a great first impression before a customer opens the door and is greeted by your staff.
Guiding customers in store
Think about the last time you were in a big airport, how did you manage to find your way from the security checkpoint to your boarding gate? Was it easy? If yes, that was the result of good “wayfinding.”
Retail wayfinding refers to how businesses use visual graphics, tactile surfaces, and audible communications to help shoppers find what they are seeking. These signs help customers navigate your space and not get lost, which creates a better shopping experience.
Visual merchandising has been a central retail discipline that signs support. Businesses can create themed product displays to encourage visitors into the store, then use signage to help customers navigate them easily.
Depending on the size of your shop, you can use signs to visually break your store into components, by clothing type, brand, or category.
Learn more: The Ultimate Guide to Retail Store Layouts
Benefits of signage for retail
There are multiple benefits retail signage can provide your store.
Cost-effective marketing tool
A sign helps consumers learn that your business exists. Signage catches the attention of potential customers and can help you get noticed. It’s a part of your branding and is a fundamental way to impact your bottom line.
Outdoor signs can help shoppers find your business and promote new products. They also help a business communicate with potential customers who are walking through their commercial area. If someone also discovers your brand on social media, then comes to find you in real life, consistent signage can help them find you more easily.
Signs can hang just about eye level or run along the side of a storefront. For small businesses, signs claim your location if you’re around many big businesses. Sometimes you can’t out-market corporate retailers, but you can use a sign to establish your place and get found.
Communication with customers
Signs are the most important elements of visual communication. Think about your last trip on the highway: what guided you from point A to point B? If your answer is signs (and Google Maps), you are correct. Similarly, business signage communicates with customers and helps them get where they need to go.
In-store signs can achieve a number of things:
- Help people navigate through your store
- Help shoppers find the products they seek
- Encourage impulse sales
- Help influence shopping behavior
- Promote sales and promotions
Whenever a customer is shopping for something, they have to make a decision. They need to figure out the stopping potential of your store versus searching for other opportunities. They make these decisions based on the signage you present to them. So much that 34% of shoppers associate sign quality with store and product quality, and 29% of shoppers make choices based on information communicated by store signs.
Well-designed and properly placed signage can help a business communicate with shoppers and generate sales.
A sign message is typically about (1) the brand and (2) the types and prices of items for sale, providing the most important information a customer is seeking. Signs need to effectively communicate this sought-after information, which can reduce a customer’s search costs—the time and energy spent researching a product or service for purchase.
If your signs don’t provide this information, they fail to help customers in their search for a viable product or service. That’s why 60% of businesses reported average sales of 10% or more by adding or updating their signs. Additionally, digital signage can bump average purchase amounts by 29.5%, according to research compiled by Mvix.
PRO TIP: Curious to measure the impact of your in-store signage on sales? View Shopify's retail sales reports see how many units of an item you sold—along with gross and net sales—before and after you installed the promotional sign.
Types of signage
There are six crucial types of retail signage you should consider for your brick-and-mortar store:
- Digital signage
- Outdoor signage
- Informational signage
- Persuasive signage
- ADA-compliant signage
Digital signage is an installation that displays video or multimedia content for advertising or informational purposes. It is powered by a media player that sends content to the display. Businesses can manage the content through a content management system on-site or within a cloud, so you can make changes quickly and easily.
Digital signs have an incredible recall rate of 83%, which is 2x the retention rate of traditional advertising.
Tech-savvy shoppers are always looking for exciting new ways to improve their shopper experience. That’s why Australian-based design firm Prendi created the Adventure Station, an interactive touchscreen experience for retail outlets to promote products and make sales easier.
The touchscreen displays a range of content, including infographics, videos, 3D models, animations, and more. You can customize it to include product wayfinding, social media integrations, and mobile integrations. Many digital screen systems have a home base that controls all the screens in your store.
The goal of digital signage is to showcase your best products, provide information, and simplify the sales process. Since digital displays capture 400% more views than static displays, this is definitely a type of sign you want to incorporate in your store.
Outdoor signage is arguably the most important type of signage in physical retail, because it’s what gets customers in the door—the largest hurdle to beginning a relationship with a potential customer. Exterior signage is the first impression customers have of your business.
These signs need to do more than simply announce who you are; they need to draw in customers and make them want something from you. Effective signage may encourage people who have passed your store many times before to finally give it a chance and cross your threshold.
Outdoor signage can take the form of sidewalk signs on chalkboard, entrance signs, murals, awnings, or window signs. Place signage where it is visible to as much walk-by and drive-by traffic as possible.
Outdoor signage, in particular, should be branded effectively to draw the customer in and help convey the experience that they can expect inside the establishment.
Informational signage may also be known as departmental, directional, organizational, or wayfinding signage. These signs help the customer navigate your space more easily. The easier it is for a customer to find what they came in for, the more likely they are to rely on that convenience in the future.
Directional signage is self-explanatory: it tells customers where to go. All types of informational signage need to be concise and easy to read so clients can understand the message with just a split-second glance. Large, bold fonts in highly visible color schemes best accomplish this goal.
Many retailers use an assortment of informational signage, including acrylic, tabletop, window mounted, and shelving signage to share product information. If you don’t have much shelving or counter space, you can use retail sign holders to guide shoppers through your store.
Once you start putting up informational signage, it becomes clear to you if your store is arranged in an orderly fashion with some rhyme or reason. Not only does this systematically benefit your customers, it also makes your internal structure more organized.
Persuasive signage influences consumer behavior through convincing language or attractive imagery. These signs can advertise a particular product or promotion. Persuasive signs or displays can influence customer flow and improve interactivity with otherwise unnoticed products. Signs that showcase a particular type of product offer an opportunity for retailers to communicate specific details of new, seasonal, or featured items.
Using persuasive signage allows brands to communicate with customers more effectively. These retail displays can turn an otherwise ordinary product into a popular hidden gem. Effective persuasive messaging can also create a higher perceived value for products, increase brand awareness, and improve retail sales.
Remember: While persuasive sales signs should be eye-catching and witty, they are not the main attraction. The most effective signs draw the customers to the product.
ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant signage
Making customers feel welcome means all customers. Offering accessibility by way of parking, entrances/exits, restrooms, cashier stations, fitting rooms, and elevators will make the experience of disabled patrons more comfortable and enjoyable. If your location offers accessible features but doesn’t make them known, you’re doing your customers a serious disservice.
If your store uses a portable ramp with a doorbell or intercom, you will need to install an appropriate sign letting customers know they can request an employee to bring the ramp to the door. If your store’s accessible entrance is not the same as the main entryway, a sign at the main entrance must indicate where to find the accessible entrance.
Any permanent interior signs indicating bathrooms, elevators, entrances, and exits also have to include Braille and tactile characters in legible fonts and contrasting colors, and they must be mounted at specific heights (typically 40 to 60 inches from the ground) for consistency and access.
You may be surprised that mats can also be used as signs, but they’re actually the most versatile signage of all. Mats serve not only safety and cleanliness needs, but also promotional and informational purposes.
You may choose to use mats for branding purposes like promoting your logo. Mats can be used for directional wayfinding within the store, in places where hanging signage is not as viable, or to lead the customer to a sale product. Mats also keep stores cleaner during inclement weather.
Lastly, mats ease the stress employees impose on their bodies by standing for long periods of time. Ergonomic cushioned mats help workers feel rejuvenated.
Best practices for your retail signage
To review: What is the purpose of retail signage? If you said to communicate with customers and encourage sales, you are correct. The economic impact of signage is clear and can be described by the below framework.
In The Economic Value of On-Premise Signage, researchers developed a framework for identifying the relationships between signage and economic impact. The left side shows the elements of good signage and characteristics that can plan a role. The right side shows the possible impacts that generate economic benefits for a brand.
If you decide to invest in signage for your store, keep the following tips in mind:
- Be specific. A customized sign can give you just the right message in just the right place—a concept known as narrowcasting. When designing a sign, include specific details, such as location-specific instructions and relevant product information.
- Keep it simple. Your sign’s message needs to be clear, but one with too much information is often ignored. Use the five-second rule: if you can convey the main themes of the sign in less than five seconds, it passes muster. If it takes longer, shorten your message or use a series of signs instead of just one.
- Write in headline text. This should help in your mission to be concise and simple all at once. Can you simplify your text? Can you take out prepositions and extra words? Effective custom signs use a message hierarchy: headline, explanatory text, and, finally, a call to action.
- Create a call to action. Signs are advertisements and, as any good advertiser knows, you need to get the customer to do something. That’s where a call to action comes in. An effective sign needs to encourage customers to take action.
- Make it legible. Legibility is the most important element in any size sign. Customers need to be able to read your signs for them to make an impact. A recent study by Signs.com found that smaller signs saw a 75% decrease in response compared to large counterparts.
- Consider illumination. LED technologies allow businesses to make signs pop with light, both internally and externally. Cove and soft-lit light is the latest trend for illuminating signs.
Using signage in your retail store
Consider signage your silent but highest-selling salesperson. Signage helps your customers navigate your shop without making it necessary to ask sales staff basic questions.
Much like you set standards for an employee’s appearance and expectations for their conduct, the color, visibility, messaging, and quality of your signage also require a certain amount of development and consideration.
Also like employees, signs can be given on-the-job tasks, ranging from sales information and wayfinding to general product information and usage.
Start bringing signage into your retail business today. You can create your own using a service like Vistaprint or work with a local company to build one for you. Either way, you’ll soon start seeing how signs create a better customer experience and make an impact on your overall business.