Signs of the Times: The signals you send and the impact to your bottom line

At approximately the same time each week, usually during one of my favorite shows, the sound on the television mutes and gives way to one of MelissaHaberstrohthe most annoying sounds on Earth…the Emergency Alert System. Yes, in an emergency it’s critical and yes, it’s important to test the system to be sure it works when we really need it. But THAT sound does nothing but make me sprint to the remote like OJ in the airport terminal in hopes of hitting the mute button in time to avoid it.

In retail, store signage could be considered our message-alert system. Think about it… day or night, open or closed, our store signage is our first “hello” to customers. Does your signage “alert” the potential customer that they need to pay attention, come inside and take a closer look or does it make them hit the mute button in their mind?

I was walking up to the door of a boutique home furnishings store at the same time that a couple was arriving. As the gentleman reached his arm around my left to open the door for me and his companion, he read aloud the sign on the door. “No Strollers. No food or drink in the store. No public restrooms. No soliciting.” He followed with “No sales!” so quickly one would have thought that it, too, was on the sign. The store owner followed all of the right rules of crafting a sign but still sent an inadvertent and potentially costly message to a potential customer. It didn’t matter that the paper was of high quality, that the text was in a nice font or that the sign was framed in a beautiful wood frame. The sign made that person feel unwelcomed to make a purchase in that store before he ever crossed the threshold. No matter how nice the product or staff or layout of the store inside, he had hit the mute button of his mind.

Seventy-four percent of all purchase decisions are made at the point of purchase. Seventy-four percent. What does that tell you about how critical point of purchase signage is? Point of purchase signage is the silent sales associate. The one who speaks to your customer about the benefits of the product, the story of its creators and why they need the item. If your store’s exterior signage is the message-alert system, then the point of purchase signage is the “message”. It’s what that tells your customer what action to take (purchase this product).

Messages are not only words and signs, though. Messages are the way that we communicate our brand promise to our customers. It’s the care that we put into packaging a purchase – making sure that the tissue is just so – before we tote the bag to the customer’s car. It’s the fingerprint-free (okay, handprint-free) door that says that we care that our product is of quality. Everything that we do in our stores tells our customer (both potential andloyal) about who we are as a store and in turn, these messages impact our bottom line.

The new economy has left today’s consumer feeling a bit famished for the shopping experience. With the closure of a number of retail outlets, the consumers are more attentive than ever. Bottom line? Consumers notice messaging missteps. In the past, a stumble meant that she told her immediate friends and family. Today, with her heightened media options, she’s instantly reporting her poor experiences at a record pace to throngs of social friends. It’s simply too risky.

We have to realize that our new consumer wants to shop but she won’t just spend her money anywhere. Those days are long gone. She wants to spend her money in a store that provides her an experience, where she feels like she belongs, with people that understand her needs and products that fit her lifestyle. At the end of the day, our goal is to create a group of loyal customers by creating a shopping experience. A customer who understand your brand conversation so well that they can (and do) repeat it to everyone that they know. The good news is that we Indie retailers have the unique ability to make swift changes in our business models and adapt to this new economy and the consumer it has created.

Melissa Haberstroh owns the Burlap Horse and Melissa Jeffrey Home in Boerne, Texas, with her husband Jeff. She also is a member of the AmericasMart Advisory Board.

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