Premier Heyside social distancing

We have moved past the initial make-do warning signs and now need to reassure customers they are in a safe environment. Mick Barker, from graphics specialist Novograf, says the second generation of signage needs to be much slicker than the first.

The easing of lockdown rules last month brought much needed relied to the retail and hospitality sector. Footfall, the long-accepted measure of retail fortunes, made a welcome bounce back as non-essential stores, pubs and restaurants were finally allowed to open their doors.

But the normal rules of retail no longer apply. Rather than the ‘pack ‘em in’ approach, it looks as though the 1m distancing rule will stay in place for quite some time.

In this scenario, shops, pubs, and restaurants will need to display efficient and clear signage to keep both customers and staff as safe as possible from the ill-effects of Covid-19.

In a pan-European poll conducted by graphics printer manufacturer Roland DG, it revealed 80% of consumers are more likely to visit stores that have clear social distancing graphics.

The research, which polled just over 2,500 European consumers, including 500 from the UK, highlighted the reputational damage retailers’ risk with weak Covid signage. Four in ten UK shoppers saying that it indicated “businesses are not taking their safety seriously enough”.

The study found that the stores with the most unclear signage are clothes shops (21% of respondents), supermarkets and grocery stores (19%), restaurants and bars (16%).

The Message is Clear

The initial ‘do it yourself’ approach will no longer suffice. The home-made signage and ‘gaffer tape’ approach to social distancing rules not only looks tacky but is only a temporary measure for shop signage. Now, with social distancing rules looking likely to stay, it is time for shops to take a more professional approach to their customer interactions.

The good news (if there can be any in a global pandemic) is that the physical lock-down has refocused consumer attention on what they once took for granted – the high street experience. We are now, in many ways, maxed out on online shopping. We crave the physical intimacy of the high street and the personal interaction it brings.

Once the lockdown lifted, people were desperately keen for some good old-fashioned retail therapy (within safe distancing guidelines, of course).

The physical limits of the concentration and density of shoppers mean it may never reach pre-Covid levels. But we can maintain a healthy flow of shoppers if we have the correct procedures to aid their smoothly flow through a store.

Retail analyst Briggs Hillier says the return to physical shopping with take place in stages. Its Focus 03 Report: The New Purpose, says there is a short, medium, and long-term transition back to normality. The short-term is the period we are in now. Retailers need to counteract the anxiety and frustration within the overall retail environment. That means we need the correct signage and instructions that promote social distancing.

Over time, consumers’ confidence of their safety will build. They will become more comfortable with social distancing and being in busy areas. Once this happens, they will demand a higher level of shopper experience. As time continues, shopping behaviours are likely to change forever with more consumers shopping across multiple channels.

“It’s important for brands and retailers to understand how and when the transition between short, medium and long-term measures needs to take place to create a positive experience in store,” says the report.

High impact communications

There are a number of things retailers can do now to maximise the opportunities physical retail presents for brand communications. We need creativity more than ever to produce high impact, effective marketing messages.

Whilst POS communications need to instill information about safety and convenience, they can also align with a brand value and personality. It is time to dispense with the ‘First Generation’ of graphics – the shouty warning signs that help to spread the sensation of fear and alarm.

We now need to turn to the next phase – the ’Second Generation’ – of signage that reflects and supports a brand. Signage needs to reassure and retain existing customers and make the environment feel like a safe place to shop and browse.

Store managers need to quickly review their existing signage and consider how quickly its deterioration will become a turn-off for customers – or when its impact begins to wane.

Instead, they need to professionalise the image to reflect their brand voice. They need to move to ‘nudge’ messaging and signage that points to higher-value brands and baskets. That means a review of materials that are fit for purpose. It now needs to move to its intended ‘look good’ life integrated within the store ambiance.

The next generation has to safely help direct customers to higher margin products within the store. It needs to contribute to the desired length of stay (the dwell time), boost basket sizes and the time taken between return shops.

Stores need to consider the following:

  • The tone of voice – we have moved past the ‘shouty stage’ and towards a more reassuring in-store presence
  • Creativity – we now have the space to add a creative bent into store signage. It is about engaging the customer and adding personality that reflects the brand image
  • Use of ‘dwell zones’ – how do you engage and entertain customers whilst they are waiting to enter the store? It is a unique value-added opportunity
  • Scheming – how do you provide signage that guides customers around the store to higher-value goods?
  • Quality and durability – social distancing signage is here to stay so ensure it reflects the quality of your brand

Interested in learning more about the impact of coronavirus? The Convenience Conference (5-9 October) will be holding an online panel session on this issue. For more information, register here.