OBJECTIVES: The aim of this study was to examine the selling of cycle helmets in retail stores with particular reference to the adequacy of advice offered about the fit and securing of helmets. METHODS: All 55 retail outlets selling cycle helmets in Christchurch, New Zealand were studied by participant observation. A research entered each store as a prospective customer and requested assistance to purchase a helmet. She took detailed field notes of the ensuing encounter and these were subsequently transcribed, coded, and analysed. RESULTS: Adequate advice for helmet purchase was given in less than half of the stores. In general the sales assistants in specialist cycle shops were better informed and gave more adequate advice than those in department stores. Those who have good advice also tended to be more good advice also tended to be more active in helping with fitting the helmet. Knowledge about safety standards was apparent in one third of sales assistants. Few stores displayed information for customers about the correct fit of cycle helmets. CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that the advice and assistance being given to ensure that cycle helmets fit properly is often inadequate and thus the helmets may fail to fulfil their purpose in preventing injury. Consultation between retailers and policy makers is a necessary first step to improving this situation.
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