Archive for June, 2013

Scale of balance in retail

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

Scale of Balance is a Retail Liability

Retail business plans are simply based on 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 harms way.

Humans require certain ergonomic standards 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 by taking the industry standards and codes to the absolute minimal dimensions.

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 causes this product to fall. When the retailer stacks more products vertically and creates the Leaning Tower of Pisa the likelihood of customer accidents caused by falling product to occur. The laws of Physics cannot be pushed beyond their limits before a safe condition turns into an accident scene.

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 for the product to fall down onto 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, the final decision to cross the line of safety is based on the idea of 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 which will help any bonus based on volume and profitability. 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 as the only support vertically and no restriction horizontally resulted in a chest coming down on a customer. Allowing a vendor display on the end of a display without a base deck of 4” in height allowed the shopping cart to enter into a space, which caused it to stop in place. When the customer pulled back on the cart it released abruptly causing the customer to fall on the floor and break a hip.
These two examples show that it is not a good idea to allow unsafe conditions in a store to remain without taking immediate action to remedy the problem.

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. I found a standard display item, made in China which was the cause of a major facial deformity case was due to a manufacture not following the retailers display specification.
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 weekly circular 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 who tripped on the paper located directly under the wire display?

Finding the liability in an accident within a store can fall on many parties and the only way to substantiate the fault is to review the industry standards, apply some common sense and review proven engineering practices that determine if all parties followed every aspect of safety within a store. When a store chooses to venture beyond the limits of safe design, they leave themselves open to becoming a party named in an accident within a retail environment.

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. I always design a store or a display with safety first before making design ideas that address profitability. I believe it is the attention to safety then to profitability that creates scale of balance for all retailers.

Jerry Birnbach F.I.S.P, Assoc A.I.A.

Leading Retail Store Planning and Consultant. Over thirty years of award winning, profitable retail solutions, innovative store planning and merchandising methods. Full services include lease negotiations, store design, display design, showroom design, retail store design and store planning, retail design expert