Retail Signage During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Joanne E. McNeish


Early in 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic began to impact countries across the world. Within weeks, people’s normal social behavior had to be changed in order to stop the spread of the disease. In Canada, where this study takes place, governments and public health departments were the primary and trusted information sources. Photographs of retail signs were taken by the author in one neighborhood in a major Canadian city in March and April. Along with descriptive information, the author speculates on the meaning conveyed by the printer-paper signs, beyond their traditional role of supporting wayfinding. Paper’s relative fragility may have simultaneously reflected the uncertainty that people felt in the early days of the pandemic, while its familiar and timeless presence may have provided a sense of emotional security and direction. Marking a return to “business as usual”, stores replaced many, but not all of the informal signs with professionally produced and branded signs suggesting that the early “blind panic” had been replaced by a form of “steady state”. One could say that retailers demonstrated corporate social responsibility through their efforts in creating and posting the signs to create awareness of, educate, and reinforce the new and changing social distancing behaviors.

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