Wayfinding in retail: Considering the consumer

| April 25, 2014

From the customer’s perspective, good wayfinding signage in a retail environment cannot be underestimated. When you are in an unfamiliar setting and need to find something specific there is comfort in knowing you can do so without having to enlist the help of someone else. Good, readable, well-planned and well-designed signage will not only help your customers find what they need, it adds to a positive experience that often translates into repeat business.

An average grocery store can really help illustrate this point. Say you are in an unfamiliar supermarket and need to find three items from three different areas — produce, dairy, and the baking aisle — and you’re on your lunch hour so you’re in a hurry. From the moment you enter you need to be able to scan the environment and decide where to begin. Generally you’ll be able to discern from large, readable signs where these departments are in the store. But, when you get to the produce section you find there are no signs and suddenly you spend the next four minutes hunting for pine nuts. You ask someone for help and they ask you what a pine nut is. Tension mounts because you’re in a hurry.


Customers want to find what they’re looking for without having to ask, making clear signage key. From Nicholas Eckhart.

When you finally find them there is no price on the label and no sign telling you how much they cost. More frustration. But you move on to the next item on your list: honey. You head for the baking aisle assuming it is with other sweeteners but you find that after three trips up and down both sides of the aisle that it is simply not here. More frustration. At this rate you’re going to be late getting back to work and the whole point of this trip was to save time.  Your frustration has turned to anger and you’re now angry at this store. That is highly unlikely to make you want to return again. And worse, you’re likely to tell more people – such as your co-workers once you get back, late — about your negative experience.

As a consumer most people want to be able to find what they need without having to engage help from others. It’s not being anti-social – it’s just human nature. There’s a sense of security and confidence that comes from being able to navigate a space unaided. Good signage that is readable and well-positioned will help your customers move easily through your space and that translates into good feelings, which can further translate into repeat business and positive word-of-mouth referrals. Everybody wins.

Enlisting the help of a design professional is a good first step because they can help you identify what works and what doesn’t, all from the fresh perspective of a first-time visitor. Effective signage is a crucial element for a successful business. How does your business compare?

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