When retailers contemplate consumer safety, they typically focus upon data security, as many work to protect their customers' private records at every turn. But what happens when physical safety becomes a concern? How must companies respond when the brand's brick-and-mortar location poses a threat to the shopper's well being?Last week, I joined my mother on her routine trip to Whole Foods. We buzzed about the store, dragging rolling carts and carrying containers as we attempted to "not spend too much" in one visit--an impossible feat for anyone who's familiar with the store's prices. However, in our rush, we realized we needed to head back to the front of the store for one forgotten item. We grabbed what we needed, but as we turned to make our way back to the cashier, something unexpected went down. (Spoiler alert: It was me.)
I motioned to move forward, signaling my legs to put one foot in front of the other, but physics had other plans. In what seemed liked slow motion, my right leg stretched out ahead of me, while my left leg twisted, pulling me hard and fast to the floor below. My weight came crashing down upon my knee as I gasped in pain and grasped my container simultaneously. My mother was mere steps ahead before she turned and rushed to my side. (I may have yelped to get her attention, but I'm not positive.) I remained down on one knee until I could process how I'd gotten there, until the pain once numbed by my stupor began to clamor for attention itself.
My mother lifted me to my feet, but they failed to find proper traction. Eventually I discovered that I had seemingly slipped on the remnants of a deflated cherry--one that had likely been stepped on and rolled over numerous times before. Because I'd had my arms full, I was unaware of its presence and inevitable role in my demise. (Ironically enough, this happened right in front of the banana display. Go figure.) Because my legs became contorted, twisting in ways I could never replicate on purpose, I ended up covered with smeared cherry guts from the knees down. I did my best to compose myself, while my mom rushed to customer service for towels.
Once they'd heard about my fall, numerous associates came to my aid, including the store manager. First, they all stared at the cherry (or what was left of it, anyway), each one mildly more dumbfounded than the other. Finally, one woman handed me some towels, then wiped the floor as I cleaned my leg. The others asked if I was all right, to which I'm not even sure I replied, for all I can recall was the store manager's primary concern: "Do you want to fill out an accident report?" I declined with an inaudible grumble and hobbled off in an effort to distance myself from the store as much as possible. Homeward bound!
But, even as I replay the incident in my mind, I cannot help but remember the fear in each associates' eyes as they waited to see if I'd stir up trouble. They were not truly concerned about my well being. They were only worried that my injury might've been serious enough to warrant a lawsuit. Had they truly been worried about the customer, they would've already had measures in place to make sure someone was responsible for the floor's continued cleanliness--an essential role, or so one would think.
What if I'd been an elderly gentleman and broken my hip? Or a young pregnant woman whose struggle induced premature labor? The situation could've been far worse.
Ultimately, Whole Foods and other such retailers must actively consider the dangers lurking around their stores. (For instance, how many times have you or someone you know stubbed their toe or tripped on an unexpectedly protruding display or rack?) Not only can such incidents injure the customer, but they may also bruise the bottom line. By eliminating such hazards and proactively working to prevent issues that may arise, companies can create a safe space for all, boosting reputation and improving satisfaction in the process. Because it's one thing to make customers fall, but making them fall in love? That requires an entirely different strategy altogether.