The Definitive Guide to Retail Signage

Posted on May 19, 2022 by CBSF

The Definitive Guide to Retail Signage

Posted on May 19, 2022 by CBSF


Out in the real world, your retail signs are the first point of contact between your customers and your brand.  

Whether that signage is at street level, inside a mall, or greeting your customers as they walk through your doors, it has a massive impact on brand recognition, recall, and foot traffic.

Just look at these numbers.

  • According to a report by the Sign Research Foundation, 61% of US consumers couldn’t find a business because its sign was too small or unclear.
  • Research from the Signage Foundation (yes, that’s a real thing) shows that effective signs positively impact sales, with 60%+ of businesses reporting a 10% boost by simply adding or updating their signs.

Let’s take that one step further.

According to research from Mvix, digital signage can grow average purchase amounts by 29.5%.

A well placed, well-designed sign can:

  • Attract customers and grow foot traffic
  • Guide customers throughout the store
  • Help shoppers find the product categories they want
  • Encourage impulse sales
  • Help influence shopping behaviour
  • Promote sales and promotions

Retail Signs Covered In This Guide:

  • Outdoor Signs
    • Monument/Pylon Signs
    • LED Message Boards
    • Flags
    • A-frame sidewalk signs
    • Channel Lettering Signs
    • Illuminated Sign Boxes
    • Hanging Blade Signs
    • Awnings
    • Window Graphics
    • Hoardings
  • Indoor Signs
    • Persuasive Signage
    • Digital Signage
    • Contextual In-store Media
    • Digital Menu Boards
    • Floor Graphics
    • Floor Mats and Carpet Graphics
    • Point-of-purchase (POP) display
    • Banners
    • Wall Coverings and Murals
    • Seasonal retail signs
    • Poster Frames and Stands
    • Price Tag Holders
    • Shelf Mounted Signs
    • Endcap Displays & Aisle Signs
    • Temporary Signs
    • Informational Signage
    • Hanging Signs
    • Departmental Signage
    • Directional or Wayfinding Signs
    • AODA Compliant Signs

Our Top Tips for Making Effective Retail Signs

While business signs may be the oldest form of marketing communication, there’s a reason they’ve survived from ancient times to today – they work.

Keep it simple. Signs must be designed and placed so that they can’t be ignored.  But more than that, they also need to be clear and concise.  Keep designs, colours and messages as simple as possible, so your message makes an impact.  Remember, you can always create a series of signs for more complex statements and designs.

Make it easy to see and read. Legibility is the critical factor in the effectiveness of any size sign. In fact, the USSC Foundation developed a Standard Legibility Index that helps retailers understand how big lettering needs to be so it can be read from a given distance. Actually, sign and lettering size is kind of a big deal. A study from found that when comparing outdoor signs, smaller signs saw a 3/4 decrease in response when compared to larger counterparts.

Be specific. All marketing communication tactics aim to deliver the right message to the right audience at the right time. It’s called Narrowcasting. So when you’re designing your sign, be sure to include the specific details customers need at that point in their buying journey.

Make your designs eye-catching. Building off your brand standards, selecting the right colour combinations will help your sign stand out. Whether you’re using contrasting colours in the sign’s design or selecting colours and design elements that help the sign pop from its environment, if you don’t draw attention to it the key message will go unseen.

Choose the right type of sign for the right location. With the many options available to you (we’re about to get into the different sign types below), it’s essential to use the correct sign, material, and construction. Consider how long the sign will be in place, whether the sun will fade colours if it needs to stand up to gale-force winds, be seen at night, or even get replaced seasonally.

Have a call to action. Signs are ads, and every ad needs to motivate shoppers to take the next step. So be sure to build desire and give clear instructions to take action.

Outdoor Retail Signs

Storefront signage covers a lot of ground – literally. Of course, potential shoppers who pass by your location by car or on foot are introduced to your brand, but effective outdoor signage also allows you to advertise sales and special events.

We ordered the following list, moving the way a customer would see your signs, starting with the street and moving to the front doors.

Monument/pylon signs. Monument or pylon signs are the large signs often found on the boulevard between the parking lot and the street. One of the main differences between a monument sign and a pylon sign is its height. Monument signs are usually around 4-5 feet tall, displaying your message at eye height so they can work within your location’s landscaping.  Pylon signs are usually 15-30 feet tall, intending to catch people’s eyes some distance away.  Here’s a simple guide: a monument sign can work if you’re located on a two-lane road with lower speed limits or within a residential area.  If you’re located on a highway, busy 4-lane road or if cars are travelling at higher speeds, a pylon is the way to go.

Changeable Letter Boards. Sometimes incorporated into monument signs, these boards allow you to slide individual plastic letters into a channel so you can spell out your message. While it seems over the past 30 years every church got one so they can make funny puns, retailers often use stand-alone “temporary” versions of these signs as you can drop them on any location, often without permits.

LED message boards. In their simplest form, they’re digital versions of the changeable letter boards detailed above. LED message boards communicate announcements, upcoming events, safety messages or brand messages. The newest LED message boards are large LED displays (like television screens) that can display high-quality graphics, animations, video, and more in full colour.

Outdoor flags. It’s said you can capture more attention with a series of well-designed outdoor flags than you can with regular banners. Part of that is that you can place them almost anywhere on your property, they shift with prevailing winds, and they’re often as bright and dynamic as the blow-up-flailing-arm-dummy that most car dealerships use.

A-frame sidewalk signs. Also called sandwich boards, A-frame sidewalk signs allow you to custom print brand messages on a sturdy board that stands up to the elements. You can also get a chalkboard backing to allow your staff to write daily messages. Or metal frames enabling you to slide in printed posters for campaign turnover.

Channel lettering signs. Perhaps the most common type of storefront sign, channel lettering signs are custom-made of three-dimensional text, usually three to six inches deep, and can be backlit with LED lighting. Almost any font and graphic can be manufactured through channel lettering. And they are attached to a backing or directly to the building itself. Lighting options include halo-lit (when the wall behind the lettering is lit, creating a silhouette), front-lit (when you blast a light on the front of the sign), and backlit (when the light is inside the channel lettering and shines through the acrylic front).

Illuminated sign boxes. A popular option for strip malls, illuminated sign boxes give a great combination of value and custom branding. They’re a large metal box that contains lighting to backlight an acrylic sheet. This acrylic sheet has a vinyl graphic with your logo, brand message, or graphics.

Hanging blade signs. These types of signs give a more traditional and elegant look. Commonly found in outdoor pedestrian malls and used for boutique shops, these signs can be mounted on posts or just above your door.  Hanging blade signs are ideal for retailers that want to give a sense of prestige and a hand-crafted approach.

Awnings. Often overlooked, a well proportioned and tastefully coloured awning can set your location apart. They promote your brand while also giving some practical advantages like shade and cover from rain, wind, and snow.

Window graphics. If you have street-facing windows, window graphics are a great way to add branding to your building. And depending on if you want to maintain visibility or light, you have different options available.  Clear window graphics are printed on transparent vinyl, so views are not obstructed.  Perforated window graphics are printed on vinyl with tiny holes, so they block people from seeing in while allowing you to see out.  And solid window graphics block the view entirely.  Also, consider that you can play with frosted elements too.

Hoardings. Often used during construction, hoardings are the branded graphics and displays that advertise what’s to come once the temporary construction barrier is taken down. Hoarding graphics are used to display large graphics, company logos, or brand messages on temporary plywood walls or as mesh banners attached to fences.

Indoor Retail Signs

In our experience, indoor retail signs are broken into two groups: persuasive signs used to promote and advertise and informational signs intended to educate, inform and direct.

Persuasive Language

Digital signage. From simple PowerPoint presentations to advanced interactive kiosks, digital signage has proven to have an incredible recall rate of 83%, which is 2x the retention rate of traditional ads. In addition to the high recall rate, digital displays have been shown to capture 400% more views than static displays. In their simplest form, digital signs are television screens that share your brand message. In their complex forms, they are contextual in-store media (below), interactive displays (like what Facebook is doing in their new store) or digital menu boards (below).

Contextual in-store media. This takes digital signage to the next level. In simple terms, contextual media is a dynamic system that serves content depending on a pre-programmed set of variables. This means that your content will automatically adjust based on whatever triggers and conditions you set.

Some examples include stock-levels (promoting excess stock or stopping promotions if your levels run low), expiry dates (if stock approaches expiry you can promote it to sell it off), weather (showing content that’s timely to locations, like promoting soup during a cold snap), events (promote licensed snacks before the big game), loyalty programs (show tailored content when your customers scan their membership), pricing (make real time adjustments based on inventory or competitor pricing), or time of day (consider the different shoppers that comes in at different times of day).

Digital menu boards. Almost all national QSRs use digital menu boards to display menus on dynamic and engaging screens, allowing for real-time updates and price changes. While QSR loves them, they’re not just for restaurants. All service-based businesses and walk-up-to-counter retailers can use digital menu boards to display pricing, sales and promotions, and notifications.

Floor graphics. While store shelves, racks, and aisles are full of colourful products competing for our shoppers’ attention, one part of the store remains under-leveraged. When carefully considered, floor graphics can be some of the most cost-effective ways to grab attention and drive sales. While you can easily direct attention to key products and displays, you can also use floor graphics to showcase company achievements, awards, or fun little brand messages/facts.

Floor mats and carpet graphics. Whether in your front entry or at your checkout counters, custom branded floor mats and carpet graphics allow you to display your logo, a slogan, or even one of your core values. It’s a cost-effective way to help keep your brand top-of-mind.

Point-of-purchase (POP) display. POP displays are often short-term, custom displays designed and manufactured to push a single product or a family of products. Constructed from corrugated cardboard, many options are available, including multi-tiered displays, pallet displays, counter displays, and gravity feed displays.

Banners. Vinyl banners are one of the simplest and most cost-effective signage options. With fast production times, light and easy to hang, and the ability to print almost anything on the banner, you can attract shoppers to sales events and special offers.

Wall coverings and murals. Quickly becoming one of the most popular ways to create a unique retail environment, wall coverings and murals are large formate printings adhered to your walls. They allow you to think big and use up what would otherwise be blank spaces. With these, you can share branded slogans, themed stories, and your corporate history or localize your locations to the neighbourhood.

Seasonal retail signs. As the name implies, seasonal retail signs can be created from any of the signs options on this list, but are intended to help promote short-term campaigns and seasonal holidays.

Poster frames and stands. Old-school but still highly effective, wall-mounted, free-standing, or backlit lit poster frames and stands allow you to display printed posters or a series of branded artwork with the ability to turnover the brand creative as each campaign comes to an end.

Price tag holders. Slip-in or stick-on, retail shelf price tag holders allow you to display product pricing professionally.

Shelf mounted signs. If you have gondola shelving, you can grab shoppers’ attention mid-aisle with shelf-mounted signs. Add more flair to your shelves with shelf edge sign holders, aisle violators, upright mount sign holders, or double stem mount sign holders.

Endcap displays and aisle signs. Located at the end of a run of shelving, endcap displays and endcap aisle signs help promote and display promotional items. Want to learn more? Check out the post we wrote on designing the perfect endcap.

Temporary signs. Sometimes you just need to get a simple message across. Whether you need to post construction notices, stock shortages, or changes to health and safety protocols, temporary signs are a cost-effective way to share important information.

Informational Signage

Not all retail signage advertises and promotes. A big part of creating a great customer experience includes helping shoppers understand where they are and how to get to what they need.

The following “types” of signs are often constructed from vinyl, acrylic, wood, metal, or almost any substrate and material, depending on the size, mounting type, and need.

Hanging signs. Most commonly used for short-term promos, as directional or departmental signage, signs can be hung by wire or with rods from ceilings, other store fixtures, or walls.  

Directional or wayfinding signs. From simple vinyl text decals to complex overview maps – directional or wayfinding signs help the lost and confused find their way. A big part of creating effective wayfinding is to walk the space like a fish out of water. Forget the intuitive elements of your layout because what’s intuitive to one group of shoppers may be utterly foreign to another. And often, giving people context for where they are and clear information on where they need to go is all they’re looking for.

Departmental signage. Sometimes colour-coded, often displayed high above shelves and displays, departmental signage helps shoppers find the “bakery” section of a grocery store, the “automotive” section of a hardware store, or the “electronic” section of a big box store. While these signs provide a practical function, injecting some creativity and design elements into the signage helps add to the branded environment.

AODA compliant signs. In an effort to be inclusive to all shoppers, ensure your informational or wayfinding signage is also AODA compliant. While many businesses are not required to be fully compliant, by making your location easier to navigate for those with visual impairments, you may build a reputation within that community as a brand that sees their needs and is working to meet them.

Finding The Right Retail Sign for Your Needs Can Be Overwhelming

By this point of the post, you can see that you and your retail business have many signage options.  Our intention with this guide is to help introduce the different ways signage can help you promote your retail business and create a shopping experience that sets you apart from your competition.

If you have an upcoming project, contact our retail design team and we’ll share how we can help.