Will customers return to brick-and-mortar stores? Signs point to “yes.”

Visibility, personality and hospitality are key to attracting your brand’s customers.

As the retail nation tries to find its footing in our current start-again-stop-again marketplace malaise, the experts will tell you that capturing every potential customer is more important than ever. But really, when was that not important? 

Retail stores live and die according to foot traffic. And as anyone in retail marketing will tell you, visibility is the key to foot traffic. 

Just look at the current environment. Have you ever seen more temporary signage in your life? Banners hung from storefronts. Signs posted on street corners. It’s the most basic form of advertising, and it’s making a big comeback because it works.

Now not everyone loves signage. Many communities have what seem like excessively strict rules about what you can post, and where. If you want to hang a simple “Now Open“ sign on your storefront, you’ll probably need a lawyer to help you sort through all of the regulations. 

It’s all with good reason however. 

Left to their own devices, many store owners would slap a sign on every window, door, façade, light post, parking sign and employee they could afford to address. That would be a tremendous eyesore – there’s no denying it. What’s even worse, it would likely be ineffective.

A well-designed signage system will instead represent your brand, project a personality to your customers and make them feel welcomed. What could be more important than that?

Think that’s irrelevant based on what’s happening in the marketplace today? Just look at the big box retailers and grocery stores that are being successful with click and pick ordering. They know a good customer experience depends upon a simple process. So these stores pour a lot of effort into making sure their customers know where to park once they arrive, what to do once they are parked and what they can expect from the experience. How do they do it? With signage. 

Restaurants and other retailers have taken note and are using signage to muster momentum. Show up for your takeout and you’ll be greeted with signage that lets you know exactly what to do. Pull up to your favorite salon and you’ll see right away what the norms will be once you walk in. Make your way through the aisles of the local pool store and you’ll be directed which way to walk and where to stand while they test the chlorine  levels in your water sample. Why? Because confusion leads to frustration. And frustration leads to lost customers. 

The more challenges a brick and mortar store faces, the more important a great signage system becomes. When you’re ready to invest in a strategy to enhance your customer experience, you would be well-advised to keep these considerations top of mind.

Rule #1 – Don’t Abandon the Brand. 

Your signage should fit seamlessly alongside all your other brand assets. Adapt your already established graphic elements into ownable extensions of what your customers already know about you.

Rule #2 – Don’t Be Handcuffed by the Brand. 

On the other hand, sometimes a mature brand – or even a very young brand – may not have enough in the old toolbox to get the job done. This might be the perfect time to expand the brand, particularly if you’re about to make a major investment in hardware. Don’t look back two years from now and find yourself longing for something new.

Rule #3 – Stand Out While Fitting In. 

Consider the environment your signage will be seen in. Be a good neighbor and think about how your signs will affect the businesses around you. Then let the personality of your brand be what sets you apart, not your visual volume.

Rule #4 – Keep It Simple Signage. 

You (or more likely your signage vendor) will be tempted to really blow it out. But never forget the purpose of your signage – awareness and communication. If your signage system doesn’t enhance your customer experience – from quickly identifying your location to easily navigating your property – then you’ve missed a huge opportunity. 

Rule #5 – Follow the Signs of the Times.

Use your signage to react to this ever-changing marketplace, even after COVID-19 has become nothing more than a memory. Make it your first line of communication and synch it with what you’re doing on social media. Something as simple as seeing store hours online that don’t match what’s on your door will cost you customers. 

In an age where “Now Open” has become the most powerful phrase in advertising, what you do to distinguish your store fronts beyond that message might just determine how quickly your business returns to normal.