House of Fraser changes women’s fashion – thanks to Prime
For Brian Miller, House of Fraser’s Head of Health and Safety, the conversion to risk management software had unexpected consequences for the store chain’s fashion departments.
With 63 stores – its largest being Glasgow with 400,000ft2 – employing 10,000 staff and serving millions of customers annually, House of Fraser has its fair share of incidents and accidents. Most are ‘slips and trips’ and happen on the shop floor.
“Until 2007, we relied on a paper-based system for accident reporting,” Miller explains. “We had filing cabinets filled with pink slips. Not only was there a logistical storage issue, we also had difficulty getting the store staff to send the paper in to us in the first place.” Once the paperwork was received, Miller relied on Excel spreadsheets for data entry, ‘number crunching’ and summary charts.
“We had no real idea how to target what we were looking at, so we needed a system that gave us better clarity and would focus in on where the problems were. Up to that point, knowing the biggest cause of accidents in our stores was just guesswork.”
Miller is honest about how he chose Prime Systems. “I knew we needed a better system and roughly what we wanted, but I didn’t know what was out there. As a company we were also becoming more technologically mobile, with laptops, Blackberrys and so-on. Just at that point, I was approached by Prime and their timing was absolutely perfect.”
Prime demonstrated their accident reporting software, which had already been in use for a number of years by a major retailer and other large companies. “It was a perfect match for what we needed and the way we worked,” Miller enthuses, “it was business at first meeting!” By the end of 2007 House of Fraser was receiving meaningful data regarding in-store accidents.
“We were absolutely gobsmacked. The data really stunned us,” says Miller. “We were convinced we had a problem with trips and falls in the cosmetics and perfumery departments because they are on the ground floor next to the front doors of our stores, which become slippery in wet weather.” Added to that, perfume testers are in constant use which, by nature of the product, is spraying pure alcohol onto marble floors – an extremely dangerous combination.
“In fact,” says Miller, “the Prime data showed that the Ladieswear departments, usually on the first floor, were our biggest problem. We investigated and discovered two critical issues. Firstly, women tend to look around more before and while they are walking to their destination; male shoppers tend to see what they want and then almost just look at the floor until they reach their destination.”
The second issue related to the visual layout of the department. Because Ladieswear at House of Fraser tends to focus on high fashion, it is generally the most heavily ‘visualised’ store area. “There are lots of distractions, particularly around the escalators. There is a high flow of customers so lots of promotional material is displayed around that area: it’s prime retail space for us.” The problem was that customers would be distracted as they were stepping off the escalators, thus causing accidents.
“We had the right accident analysis, but in completely the wrong place!” Miller laughs. “We had long discussions with our in-store visual people and adjusted the layout and level of advertising to create less of a distraction at the step-on, step-off points.”
The result? A 2% drop in accident rates year-on-year, with even better figures around the Christmas period. “The Prime system has provided significant savings,” Miller claims. “Primarily in the number of claims (down 20% in a year) and in the cost of insurance premiums (down 10%); but also in management and administration time. It used to take us months to process our accident data, now it all just happens. Accident reports are timely and automated, so we are unlikely to ever be prosecuted for failing to report on time. Also accident investigation is so much simpler. It used to be a nightmare to find all the paperwork for a case, now we can do it at the touch of a button.”
There are also benefits for House of Fraser customers, offering them a safer shopping experience, and for staff who are spending less time dealing with accidents and can target specific safety issues.
According to Brian Miller, “the service Prime Systems provides is efficient, always works and does exactly what we want it to do. It just sits in the background doing its job. I trust it completely and so do the rest of the House of Fraser staff – if they didn’t they wouldn’t use it and, believe me, they put everything into our accident reporting system.”