Prepare your LP team for Black Friday

Focus on crowd control, communications, contingencies and staff coordination to create successful and safe retail events

The quickly-approaching holiday season brings to mind the importance of protecting retail events. From fights over limited product, to the trampling of a security officer at a post-Thanksgiving day sale in 2008, unfortunately, Black Friday brings equal opportunity for both profitability and risk.

To ensure events yield maximum revenues as well as safety for customers and staff, retailers must take steps to prepare for special events. Many loss prevention teams do an exceptional job managing special events, but insight into what it takes to keep an event safe will also help other groups in retail understand not only why it's important to get LP involved early, but also how everyone can contribute to ensuring a safe and successful event. The four Cs are fundamental to protecting a special retail event.

Communication is perhaps the simplest, but most essential element to consider both before and during a special event. Good communication yields improved effectiveness in execution and is also the best way to control a situation before it degrades into a crisis.

Consider, for example, the situation of a tired, cold crowd that has been waiting outside for several hours. Communication is the first step to managing that crowd. Managing expectations and helping them feel better about the wait can help calm nerves and disarm tempers. For example, "We've opened the doors now and the wait from this point is 40 minutes." Or, "We're going to open the doors, but we need you to be patient and not push, so no one gets hurt." In most cases, people want to be agreeable and will do what is asked of them if it is clearly communicated.

How would a warm cup of coffee or hot chocolate make that customer feel? Chances to build loyalty exist everywhere and events can't just be about the sale, they have to be about the experience.

Similarly, an event will proceed smoothly if the staff is able to stay in communication during an event. Staff members need to be able to send updates and directives instantly through a dependable system. "We need security outside, as there appears to be an intoxicated, angry customer in the crowd that needs to be removed." Or, "The celebrity left early and there are disappointed customers. What can we offer these customers as a goodwill gesture?"

Communication is fundamental. Be sure there is a dependable system for communicating – whether that is cell phones, walkie-talkies, loudspeakers or a combination of all of these. Good communication is a far easier way to manage a situation than trying to physically control an already deteriorating situation.

Crowd Control
Any time a large number of people assemble, situations have the potential for more volatility. One of the most important things a retailer can do to control crowds is diffuse fundamentally competitive situations.

When planning events, marketing and merchandising teams' primary goal is to generate traffic and excitement. The creation of limited availability offers is a great way to generate excitement and crowds. However, these offers set up potentially dangerous situations for crowd control, where people are pitted against one another to reach the product, break in line, etc.

The LP team should collaborate with all of the other groups in retail to plan an exciting AND safe event. The spirit of competition can be maintained while diffusing the immediate need for conflict. Some examples include handing out wristbands to the first 100 people in line instead of having them race to the site of the new product and fight over the last items. Another option is to spread the limited merchandise throughout the store to avoid a single point of a crowd crush.

Coordination during Event
Coordination includes all of the logistical activities that take place at the actual event in real-time. It's about having and using the right people and resources. It's knowing how and when to turn to the emergency action plan. It's making real-time decisions to ensure that the event is being managed and does not deteriorate into a crisis situation.

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