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Tactics watch: Sign of the times

March 27, 2012
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See the big picture, then sweat the small details

Consumers need guidance for saving money and discovering products at the store.
So show them a sign.
According to an August, 2011 survey by Southfield, Mich.-based consulting firm AlixPartners, 93 percent of consumers say that in-store signage and product displays - which typically point to promotional and sale items - can influence them to purchase items not on their shopping list.
“You want to get the message as close to the point of decision,” says James Tenser, principal at consumer products consultancy VSN Strategies in Tucson, Ariz., and  executive director of the membership organization In-Store Implementation Network. “Stores are so large and assortments are so large that it’s difficult for a shopper to find anything, and so if you want to steer them toward something, you have to somehow distinguish the item from the background.”
And when used to promote private label features and prices, signs can not only increase sales but reinforce a retailers’ brand identity and exclusive offerings, Tenser says.
Before you start throwing signs all over the place, you need to think big picture and strategize about the small details.
Keith Jelinek, director of global retail practice at AlixPartners, says retailers must first decide which one or two of five different attributes they want to beat their competitors in: product, price, experience, location and service. (If retailers try three or more, they’ll spread themselves too thin, he argues.)
If price is one of those key attributes, then promoting private label - on average 30 percent less expensive than national brands - will be pivotal. And one of the most effective ways to use signs to increase sales is to call out that price difference, says Tony Kadysewski, marketing communications manager at point-of-purchase fixture manufacturer Trion Industries, Inc. in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Using signs to reinforce the week’s circular promotions for private label further stresses the brand’s - and store’s -value offerings, Jelinek adds.
But what sets one retailer apart is using signs to market private label attributes beyond savings, Jelinek says, such as ingredients, flavors, scent or a low calorie count. To promote its Ambiance premium coffee line, Commerce, Calif.-based Smart & Final uses signs at the front of stores and at the ends of aisles to emphasize a variety of flavors, while signs on-shelf stress the quality of the brand’s Arabica coffee beans.
The challenge is finding the balance between saying too much and not enough. “If you talk about every feature and functionality of the product, you’ll miss the whole point of driving traffic to the promotion,” Jelinek says. “You have to be specific in the product description.” For larger signs, retailers shouldn’t exceed three to five major talking points, Jelinek says. For further help determining what to say, retailers should research why customers would buy particular private label items, he adds.
Even with an eye on strategy, you can’t neglect the nitty gritty details, which can be the difference between success and shortcomings. Make sure, for instance, that you have a schedule in place to coordinate when signs need to be put up, modified or taken down. “That’s something retailers don’t think about as much as they think about the content or graphic design,” Tenser says.
Sign colors can reinforce private label products by matching packaging color schemes, Kadysewski says, or the colors from an in-store circular ad for a private label promotion, Jelinek says. Cater to an aging shopping base with larger font sizes, Jelinek says, and remember to modify font sizes in proportion with sign size changes.
One of the most critical elements is having a functional system. To that end, paper is most popular because it’s easy to produce, and when it comes to shelf edge, it’s not as difficult to remove as adhesives, Kadysewski says. Over the past two years, more retailers have been printing signs on site instead of at a third party location or corporate headquarters, making execution more seamless, Jelinek says.
There’s still one more thing you need - time. Smart & Final begins its point-of-sale creative development about two months before a private label promotional event and marketing communicates to stores via manager guides and meetings with district managers, category managers and internal staff to make sure the signage strategy and its execution is falling into place, says Randall Oliver, corporate communications director.
Such careful consideration has meant major success, Oliver says. “In-store signage is one of the most powerful ways we connect with consumers and influence their purchasing decision towards our private label products,” he says.

Five keys to effectively use in-store signage

1. Stress savings and product qualities.
2. Don’t clutter signs with too much messaging - or the store with too many signs.
3. Use color to be seen and proper font sizes to be read.
4. Have a functional system in place.
5. Give yourself time for proper execution.

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