Archive for May, 2013

Scale of Balance is Retail Liability

Saturday, May 25th, 2013

Retail is simply how to get the most sales per square foot of selling space. In the retailers attempt to improve their bottom line they often make decisions that put their customers and employees in harm way.

Humans require certain ranges and accessibility to shop safely in a store. Although local building codes regulate aisle widths and fire egress within the store, the retailer is always trying to push the envelope of safety.

For every action there is an opposite reaction. Reduce the aisle space to get more products out increases the likelihood of a customer to walk into a display or brush past product that sets it in motion. Stack more product vertically and watch the Leaning Tower of Pisa to appear. The laws of Physics cannot be pushed beyond their limits before a safe condition turns into an accident.

So why do retailers often cross the line of safety? More often than not the store staff are not aware of what they are doing could lead to an unsafe condition. Store managers are notorious in finding space and loading it up with product regardless of the possibility it comes down on a customer. Action is a result of motivation and the Store Managers bonus and performance is based on total yearly sales and not by the absence of accident reports. So, do I make an additional $50,000 in sales by risking some safety issues or take a chance on a small claim costing $5000.00. Sounds like a net profit of $45000.00. What the manager miscalculated was the extent of damage caused by an accident and many juries will award $500,000.

As I tour stores for Attorneys to review liability claims it is baffling why common sense did not kick in to alert the store they were planting a mine field that could only result in a catastrophe. Stacking furniture on top of each other with 4 legs the only support vertically and no restriction horizontally resulted a chest coming down on a customer. Allowing a vendor display on the end of a display without a base deck of 4” allowed the shopping cart to enter into a space, which caused it to bind. When the customer pulled back on the cart it released itself causing a broken hip.
These two examples show that it is not a good idea to get creative with displaying product as the unpredictable end results can turn out poorly for all concerned.

My recommendation to attorneys when addressing a liability case in a retail environment is to take out the magnifying glass and determine what were the real conditions at the time of the accident event. I found a standard display item, made in China, the cause of a major facial deformity case due to not manufactured per the specification of the retailer. When a retailer weekly circular printed material fell on the floor and was the cause of a customer slipping on it who was at fault.

Was it the floor which was not a non-slip surface, the circular material wire stand which had no edges around the stack of printed material thus allowing the wind at the door to blow the circular onto the floor, or was it the customer who cut across the entrance floor and had ten feet to pass the wire rack without tripping on the paper directly under the wire display?

Regardless of where the fault was established the fact remains that there are standards, common sense and proven engineering practices that show every attempt was made to avoid an accident. When you leave the door open with any diversion from standard practice you expose yourself to a law suit eventually.

Here is the reality, if you are a big box retailer with 1000 locations, 5000 customers a day per store there is a potential of five million accidents a day. That sounds like safety first and dollars second to reach a profitable scale of balance for a retailer.