Every retailer knows that signs are silent salespeople, but not every retailer knows how to properly use them. We found three glaring examples on a quick trip through our local mall:
Whomever made the generally well done chalk sign behind the checkout at Caribou Coffee mis-spelled the word "recieve" (I before E, except after C ...). When we pointed it out to the manager she shrugged and said, "High school kids, what are you gonna do?"
Macy's has good looking signs in the dress department. Each of the t-stands on the aisle had a 5 X 7" single-word sign, hung by a ribbon, around the hanger of the front garment. The signs read, "Empire", "Print", "Wrap Dress", etc. Duh. If you have to point out that the fabric on a dress is a print, why bother? Customers can figure that out by themselves. Signs are supposed to tell the customer something important -- a feature, advantage or benefit about a product.
We found our favorite poor use of signing at the Hallmark store. We were in the process of purchasing a greeting card when we noticed a gift bag display behind the checkout. Each bag held color-coordinated tissue paper, plus ribbons and other decorative items. Above the display was a sign that read: "All you add is the gift"; on each bag was a hand-written hang tag marked either $3.47 or $4.47. Georganne pointed to one marked $3.47 and said she'd take it. The rest of the conversation went like this:
Cashier: "Which one?"
George: "The blue one marked $3.47."
Cashier: "It's not $3.47"
George: "Yes, it is. Read the sign."
Cashier: "Do you really think you'd get all that for $3.47?"
George: "Yes, because that's what the sign says."
Cashier: "That's stupid. Only the bag and the tissue are $3.47."
George: "Read the sign."
Cashier: "I know what it says, but that's not how much it is."
George: "Then why does the sign say "All you add is the gift -- $3.47"?
The cashier didn't have a response to that question, but she did go on to defend the point that no one would seriously think they could get that gift bag for $3.47. We did, and so did the other customers waiting in line to pay for their purchases. Customers should not have to read between the lines to figure out what a sign really means. The card we purchased was marked $3.99 and that's what we paid. Should we have expected the cashier to tell us the card was $3.99 but the envelope was a buck more? Of course not. The sign was mis-leading and just plain wrong. Signs are supposed to allow you to communicate with customers without ever saying a word. It's like one of the fundamental rules of advertising: if you have to explain it, it doesn't work.
Do a daily quick check of your own in-store signs. Make sure that each one means what it's supposed to mean without explanation. Get rid of signs that are obvious, and keep your eyes open for any signing that you did not authorize. Our favorite signs-we-never-ever-want-to-see-again include: “No shoes, no shirt, no service, no food, no drink, no eating, no smoking, no strollers, no pets, no travelers checks, no credit cards.”; "Stealing from this store will result in bad karma"; "Lovely to look at, delightful to hold, but if you break it, we mark it sold."; and "Unattended children will be sold as slaves". Pahleeze. Be crystal clear and diligent about how your store communicates with customers!