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Natural Foods Merchandiser

Note to natural retailers: signs matter

Note to natural retailers: signs matter
New marketing research finds that signs are an important marketing tool for retailers, second only to television ads. Make your indoor and outdoor signs useful and attractive to environmentally- and health-conscious consumers with these tips.

Think you need to invest in pricey radio, Internet or newspaper ads to lure customers to your store or product? Think again. According to a new study by University of Cincinnati researchers, you'll get the most bang for your buck by sprucing up your signs.

"Signage, a basic form of technology and communication that evolved in antiquity still works, even in today's Internet age," says University of Cincinnati marketing expert James Kellaris, PhD, who collaborated with BrandSpark market research firmand Better Homes and Gardens for the annual American Shopper Study, released this month.

The survey of more than 100,000 North American households found that consumers ranked television as the most useful source of new product or store information. But indoor signage was a close second (tying with magazines) and outdoor signage ranked third, beating out radio, Internet and newspaper ads.

The study should be a wake-up call for retailers who haven't changed the bulbs on their "open sign" for a while, or didn't put much thought or investment into their store front sign.

One third of respondents said they had been lured into a new store by an attractive outdoor sign (among the 18-24 group, the number was 50 percent, suggesting that younger shoppers with less life experience upon which to draw invest even more weight in snap-judgment cues like a sign). More than 35 percent said they make assumptions about a store's quality based on their signage. And half said they have skipped stopping by a store because their signage was too small or hard to read.

Of note to the natural products industry: Environmentally conscious and health conscious consumers were even more prone to judge a store by its sign.

Tips for designing and displaying signage

"One well-constructed sign can identify a business, convey its name, nature and brand image—all this at a glance," says Kellaris. He suggests that retailers keep this in mind when designing and placing their signage:

Make it legible: Don't go overboard with fancy fonts, color and shading. Research has shown that if they can't read it clearly, it may negatively impact acceptance of your message. Less is more.

Placement matters: "If consumers have to look up to read a sign, the information seems more authoritative and credible," says Kellaris. "But looking down can evoke warmer feelings, as these angles mirror parent-child interaction." Keep this in mind for both outdoor and indoor signs.

Make good use of shelf tags and end caps: Shelf tags help consumers comparison shop and end caps are critical for drawing attention to new products.

Present your unique personality to your customers: "The underlying principle is aesthetic congruity—having signage that conveys information in a way that matches your brand and your target customers," he says. "An ugly, worn sign that says 'EAT' in front of an American diner that serves homemade comfort food might be perfect for that situation."

Other interesting stats from the survey

  • 7 in 10 consumers are trying to reduce their consumption of processed foods
  • 6 in 10 Americans are trying to buy foods that are local (an increase from 5 in 10 a year ago)
  • 6 in 10 consumers consider private label over-the-counter health products as good as brand name, but only 4 in 10 believe the same about beauty products
  • 8 in 10 consumers will try new food products without having received a recommendation, but only 5 in 10 are willing to do so with beauty products
  • 1 in 3 shoppers owns a smart phone and 40 percent of shoppers age 18 to 34 will use a coupon sent to their mobile device
  • The top three factors consumers consider when shopping are: the products they need are always in stock, the retailer has fresh products and the shelves are clean and well organized.
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