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Reducing slips, trips and falls in the retail environment

BY CSA STAFF

By Dave Mesko, [email protected]
It’s a shopper’s market. Today, consumers have an array of options when it comes to shopping and no longer have to remain loyal to one store. In order to grow and sustain loyal customers, it’s important that retailers provide a safe environment for shoppers.

Slips, trips and falls can cost a retailer much more than money; they can cost public trust and damage your brand. According the National Safety Council, more than 9 million disabling slips and falls occur each year, costing an average of $20,953. More shockingly, slips and falls are one of the leading causes of accidental death in the United States. There are many factors that can contribute to such injuries in the retail environment including slippery floors caused by inclement weather, spills and inadequate mopping. Other factors such as poor lighting and obstructions in walkways contribute as well. While many people have the attitude that “accidents happen,” retailers can take preventative measures to protect customers, employees and their business by implementing a safe floor plan.

Implement a mat system
The first step in creating a slip-free environment is to implement a mat system. The National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI) estimates that more than 80% of slip-and-fall accidents take place on wet surfaces, so it is important to capture moisture throughout your store with mats. The essential first line of defense is to have maximum coverage at the entrance as the majority of dirt and moisture enters through the door. According to ISSA, most of the dirt found within a building is tracked in on people’s shoes, and more than 85% of the dirt would not enter the building if entry mats were properly placed and maintained. The more shoppers walk on the mat, the more unwanted contaminants are captured before having a chance to enter store. Retailers can complement their entrance mats by placing rubber mats, also known as scraper mats, outside to serve as an additional barrier as well.

While combating dirt at the entrance is the highest priority, a comprehensive mat system covers all high-risk areas in an establishment. People slip on wet floors, so it is important to place mats in all areas that could become slick. For instance, a grocer will want to place mats in the produce section where the misters spray and under fruits and vegetables, such as grapes, that can become a hazard if squashed. Transition areas such as the walkway between the back room and the main store should be protected as well to keep dust and other particles from spreading throughout the store. The best way to identify and proactively protect all high-risk areas is to request a walk-through consultation from a qualified vendor to ensure your program will provide maximum protection.

To rent or buy?
When implementing a mat program you have the option to rent or buy. The main difference is the quality of mats and the service component. Before implementing a program, it’s important to verify the mats are certified “High Traction” by the NFSI. This certifies the mats have proven slip-resistant characteristics and have passed a laboratory test and a “real world” test to reduce slips, trips and falls. Unfortunately, many direct sale companies do not test their mats due to cost, so it is important to check.

Another critical factor to consider is service level. In order for your program to be truly effective, contaminants such as water, dirt and grease that are captured by the mats must be removed from the facility. By renting from a facility services provider, your mats will be professionally cleaned on a routine basis to maximize performance. Further, you have the option to increase service frequencies and the amount of mats during the rainy season or winter for more protection. However, if you buy the mats, the cleaning is up to you and regular vacuuming does not clean a mat as deeply or thoroughly as a laundry service. In fact, according to Georgia State University, only 10% of dirt is removed from mats with a vacuum cleaner. If mats are not cleaned thoroughly on a regular basis, they will become saturated with contaminants and will ultimately spread them across your facility creating more slip and fall hazards.

Maintain floors on a regular basis
Beyond a matting system, it’s important for retailers to maintain floors on a daily basis by pairing clean tools such as mops with the right cleaning chemicals for different floor surfaces. By designating clean mops for specific areas, organizations can prevent cross contamination between departments. For example, mops used to clean restroom floors should not be used to clean floors in the produce department. This not only keeps floors clean and safe, but enhances the image of the store making the shopping experience more enjoyable. Retailers should also invest in periodic deep cleaning services that remove dirt, break down build-up and extract all contaminants from grout lines, tile and carpeted areas throughout the building. Regular maintenance not only keeps surfaces safe but enables retailers to extend the life of their flooring as well.

Reducing risk using a team approach
When rolling out your safe floor plan, it’s important to communicate the specifics to all employees and provide necessary training to ensure procedures and processes are understood and executed correctly. Retailers should also anticipate spills and have a plan in place to proactively reduce risk. All spills should be cleaned immediately and staff should place proper signage around the affected area to warn patrons that the floor is wet. As spills cannot be controlled, retailers should designate a few employees to monitor the store and alert cleaning staff immediately if they spot any hazards. Further, larger retailers may want to assign greeters who can also assist in making sure entrance mats do not get rolled up to eliminate trips and alert the cleaning staff if there is excess water around the entryway. Retailers can also protect customers by having adequate lighting in all areas and enforcing a zero tolerance policy on leaving unattended items in walkways.

As retailers continue to vie for customers, protecting floors is one way to provide shoppers with a safe and satisfying shopping experience. Not only will it translate into dollars saved from a reduction in slips and falls claims, it will also enhance your store’s image and atmosphere.

Dave Mesko is senior director of marketing for Cintas Facility Service, which offers a wide range of solutions that enable businesses to build their image and increase profitability and productivity. For more information, please visit cintas.com/FacilityServices. Dave Mesko can be reached at [email protected].

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Aéropostale Bets Big on Times Square

BY Marianne Wilson

Aéropostale has turned up the retail wattage in Manhattan’s Times Square, opening a global flagship in the heart of the tourist Mecca. The two-level, 19,000-sq.-ft. space — the teen retailer’s largest store yet — is designed to raise the chain’s profile and serve as a platform for its international expansion. The company is on track to have 50 stores in Canada and 10 in Dubai by year’s end.


“With some 2 million visitors on a daily basis, Times Square has become a true shopping destination. We think this store will set the foundation for our global reach,” said Ken Ohashi, VP investor and media relations, Aéropostale, which operates 901 namesake stores in 49 states and Puerto Rico, and 40 P.S. from Aéropostale kids stores in 12 states.


The new Aéropostale combines the latest in high-tech interactivity with traditional Big Apple accents and cues. The store, which is completely wireless, dazzles passers-by with a 120-ft., interactive LED display system that moves across the facade and weaves in and out of the building. 


The three-panel display can act as one sign or three independent ones, with content that includes images from the retailer’s seasonal campaigns, promotional messages and exclusive video. In the 700-sq.-ft. Balcony area on the second floor, shoppers can dance with virtual Aéropostale models and have their images projected on the digital display some 20 minutes later. (With windows facing three sides, the Balcony also provides unparalleled views of Times Square below.)


“The 20-minute delay gives the customer time to get outside and look up and see themselves,” Ohashi said.


The fact that Aéropostale has dedicated 700 sq. ft. of selling space to an area with no merchandise is unusual to say the least. 


“We want to be engaging,” said Scott Birnbaum, senior VP marketing, Aéropostale. “It’s a larger-than-life experience — getting to see yourself dancing on that screen. And we also wanted to showcase Times Square.” 


Interior: The store design celebrates Aéropostale’s heritage and its New York City roots and locale. It uses such authentic materials and elements as subway tiles, metal and polished concrete, and subway-styled mosaics. A recurring design element — columns styled as girders with rivets — was inspired by the architecture of the city. Shoppers pass by an illuminated vintage Aéropostale sign as they ride up the escalator. 


“We want to give customers a fun and engaging shopping experience while capturing the essence of New York City,” Ohashi said. “Aéropostale is a New York City-based brand, and we want to celebrate our hometown.”


The massive space allows Aéropostale to present a much deeper selection of its core categories than it can in its mall stores. The retailer takes full advantage, with complete displays and evocative, lifestyle merchandising. 


“This store reflects our evolution into a teen lifestyle brand,” Birnbaum explained. “Over the years, we have integrated more fashion into our assortment, and we are really able to focus on that here because of the added space.”


Several clothing categories are housed in separate, in-store shops complete with their own elements. For example, the design of the “Denim Library” was inspired by the New York Public Library. The department is outfitted with antique lighting fixtures, used books, library ladders and library catalog-styled signage. It even has a fiberglass statue of a lion that resembles the marble lions guarding the Public Library. 


Approximately 15% to 20% of the merchandise mix at the Times Square location is exclusive to it, and much of it is displayed in the “SoHo Shop.” The space is surrounded by a cast-iron facade and, in keeping with the SoHo theme, has mahogany wood floors, a pressed tin ceiling and brick walls. A Brooklyn Bridge-etched mirror hangs behind the cashwrap. 


The “Dorm Room” is fashioned after every teen girl’s New York apartment fantasy. It’s feminine and inviting, with glittering chandeliers and an oversized blue brocade settee.


One of Aéropostale’s most important core businesses, graphic T-shirts, occupies prominent space near the front door. The department is laid out so that it can remain open for business two hours after the rest of the store closes. 


Aéropostale isn’t commenting as to the store’s projected volume. Birnbaum said the chain’s mall locations average $635 per square foot. 
“This store will do significantly more,” he added.


Click here for more photos of Aéropostale.

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Technology and the Store: The Shoppers’ Perspective

BY Dr. Alan Treadgold

There can surely be no question that the two defining trends re-shaping the U.S. retail landscape are the impacts of the recession and technology. But whereas the impact of the recession is, we hope, cyclical, the impact of technology on shoppers’ lives and on retail businesses is profound and structural.


Much of the discussion about the impact of technology on the retail industry has focused on the extent to which the Internet will replace the physical store as a sales channel. Indeed, as each successive quarter shows Internet sales growing much more strongly than store-based sales, a polarizing debate has begun on when the Internet will make the retail store redundant.


At Leo Burnett, we are far more interested in understanding the drivers of shoppers’ behaviors than we are in forecasting the pre-eminence of one channel over another. So when we explored how shoppers are behaving in a technology-enabled retail landscape, the insights we uncovered were variously interesting, provocative, nuanced and complex.


The first thing to say is that we do not believe that the death of the physical retail store is either imminent or inevitable. It is clear from asking shoppers that many of them still look to the retail store as their final preferred purchase point in the total (and often very long and complex) path to purchase. So it is not a case of either shopping online or in-store. For most shoppers in many product categories, the Internet plays one role and the physical store plays another, complementary role.


But this does not mean that the strength of the retail store is assured. Shoppers are often very clear and very vocal about the shortcomings of the physical store experience. For many shoppers, stores continue to under-deliver on the absolute retail basics of having the right product at the right price and in the right place. Indeed, the size of the deliver gaps between what shoppers want and what they feel they get is often notably wide and notably worrying.


But even if retailers are able to deliver better on the retail fundamentals, this will not be enough to secure the future of the retail store. The nightmare scenario for retailers with heavy investments in physical brick-and-mortar real estate is that their stores default to simply being collection points for merchandise purchased online — in other words, hugely expensive and inefficient mini-warehouses.


To avoid this doom scenario, retailers with heavy investments in physical store networks need to emphasize the attributes and experiences their stores can offer that the Internet and other remote channels cannot. 


Many retailers have looked to in-store technologies to deliver enhanced shopper experiences on-site. Unfortunately, when we ask shoppers how much technology does to enhance their in-store experiences, the results often appear disappointing for retailers that have invested a great deal in recent years on customer-facing technologies. 


Many retailers look to these technologies to deliver on the holy grail of both taking cost out of their businesses and simultaneously improving the customer experience. The disappointing news is that customers are often largely unimpressed. From the shoppers’ perspective, in-store technology is seen as being largely about functionally improving the shopping process in self-directed environments (such as grocery stores), rather than enhancing the shopping experience in more browsing, experiential environments (such as department stores). Right now, in many store types, shoppers see technology as putting up something of a barrier between them and the store experience. In other words, it is undermining the experience rather more than enhancing it. Furthermore, for most of the shoppers that we surveyed, in-store technologies are very low-order priorities on their wish lists of what will create more appealing shopping experiences.


What are the lessons for retailers? The good news is that most shoppers still value the physical retail store for many of their shopping needs. But in those stores, the promise of technology to deliver an enhanced experience for the shopper, as opposed to a lower cost model for the retailer, has been largely unfulfilled. More work is required.


Dr. Alan Treadgold is global head of retail strategy for Leo Burnett. He is based in London and Chicago and leads the agency’s strategy work and research program for the retail sector ([email protected]).

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