Why Signs Sell - Signage for Retail Stores

Harnessing the Selling Power of Signs for Your Retail Store


We believe that interior advertising, also known as signage, is the most misunderstood and underutilized tool in retailing today. We also believe that signage is the fastest way to sales increases in a retail store than any other tool a retailer has, and yet very few people get it.

When a retailer thinks about signage, they think about sales. That’s great. But signs come in different types and designs.

They don’t have to say, “We’re giving the store away!” or “Everything is half price!”

In our new book Signs Sell, a collaboration with FASTSIGNS International, Inc., we uncover that some of the best signs don’t necessarily have words on them. Their graphics create a mood.

Fifteen years ago in Massachusetts, we created an awards program called the RAMAE Awards (Retailers Association of Massachusetts Awards of Excellence). One of the award winners was an old crusty retailer who owned a furniture store called Alpert’s Furniture (that later sold out to a large conglomerate). The owner had this simple philosophy: in every department of his store, he had to have to have a graphic of the type of people who would be purchasing the furniture they were selling in that department. He wanted to associate the people, his customers, with the product. For example, in the children’s furniture department, there were big murals of kids playing on furniture.

Same with home offices--the signs had pictures of people working at the desks. He created a graphics on a sign. They didn’t say “SALE,” they simply created those associations.

And now people are starting to understand that it’s more than just signs: speciality retailers have embraced educating their customers as a marketing tool.

Most retailers today offer some type of classes and post signs up announcing the classes, which all the sudden makes the retailer an authority. It positions retailers in a way they want to be positioned. If a store offers classes, but does not create and post signage in the store, what good is it to offer the classes?

And you can take this to another level. What’s wrong with having sings that teach customers in the store using bite-sized pieces of information about the product that’s being sold?

Another RAMAE Award winner was a garden center that openly admitted they had one sign that generated more sales than another any other sign they had in the entire garden center, inside or outside. It said, “The Top Ten Clean Air Plants.”

Simple. People want clean air plants, they see the sign and the pictures of the products, and they’d buy the products. They didn't ask about price--it wasn't a matter of price. They made the purchase because of what the product was, which they learned from the sign.

I've written books on culture. service and selling, but nothing comes close to the power of a sign. If you think about it, there’s a reason why: what’s the best form of advertising? Simple. Word of mouth.

If someone sees a sign, it’s as if someone told them something. They don’t know where they got it from, but the image is in their head.

In many cases, it only takes a split of second to create that image. That’s why the use of digital signs is so powerful. There have been numerous studies done on the power of signs,  but the best one involves a chainsaw sign. The retailer changed the sign on the chainsaw that led to sales increases of 20 to over 500 percent.

But we’ve only scratched the surface here. You can't talk about signs without mentioning the power of signs that entertain. In Signs Sell, I talk about creating experiences for customers, making the mundane memorable. Make it fun, and people will stay in the store. How many fun signs do you have in your business? Federated Co-op stores in Canada have signs above refrigerated milk that say, “Milk so fresh the cow doesn't even know it’s missing.” At a fitness center, a sign says, “Are you fat and ugly?

Would you just like to be ugly?”

Why do signs sell? Because someone is passing a message to us, and we don’t even realize it. Signs change our attitudes and the way we think.