Keys to keeping the peace on Black Friday

Retail security experts share best practices

According to a recent survey conducted by the National Retail Federation, 140 million people plan on shopping online and in stores this Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Of those who said they planned to shop this weekend, nearly one-quarter (23.5 percent) plan to do so on Thanksgiving Day, but the overwhelming majority (69.1 percent) indicated that they plan to do their shopping on Black Friday.

Although Black Friday sales events are not a new phenomenon, they do present several unique challenges that retail security professionals do not handle on a regular basis. Perhaps the most significant of these is crowd management and controlling the flow of people into and out of a store. Not only is this important for the safety of shoppers, but for store employees as well. In 2008, a worker at a Wal-Mart store in New York was trampled to death by a crowd of frenzied customers who broke through the doors.

It’s because of incidents like this that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration now sends out letters annually to retailers across the country with a fact sheet that provides crowd management guidelines. According to OSHA, crowd management plans should, at least, include:

  • On-site trained security personnel or police officers.
  • Barricades or rope lines for pedestrians that do not start right in front of the store's entrance.
  • The implementation of crowd control measures well in advance of customers arriving at the store.
  • Emergency procedures in place to address potential dangers.
  • Methods for explaining approach and entrance procedures to the arriving public.
  • Not allowing additional customers to enter the store when it reaches its maximum occupancy level.
  • Not blocking or locking exit doors.

In addition to managing crowds, loss prevention managers also have to be on the lookout for people looking to commit crimes of opportunity against the retailer, as well as customers. SIW recently caught up with several retail security experts to discuss the steps stores need to take in preparation for this year’s Black Friday sales.

SIW: What are your biggest security concerns when it comes to Black Friday? Why?

Richard Mellor, vice president, loss prevention, National Retail Foundation: I would say, generally speaking, the safety and well being of customers is a natural shift that takes place on these very busy shopping days versus the typical surveillance for people stealing merchandise and so forth. What takes place on these very busy, crowded days is (security/loss prevention professionals) have to be watchful in looking out for the safety of customer. And during these busy times where there is a lot of confusion and people rushing about, it’s not unusual for people to slip, fall, trip over things… so the security and loss prevention personnel almost shift to being watchful for those types of hazards that are in the way and that customers have difficulty getting past – children, baby strollers and things like that tend to be a little bit hazardous for people to get past and do their shopping. It’s one thing to be looking out for hazards on the selling floor that just kind of naturally appear there; when merchandise is being replenished and they roll out a cart to bring the merchandise out as shoppers buy it. Things like that you have to be always concerned that it does not provide for a tripping hazard. But the other aspect of it that is oftentimes overlooked is the dishonest opportunist. In the middle of all of the commotion, shoppers will often leave a handbag just out of their reach, a wallet lying on a counter, a credit card left behind sitting on a counter or an identification (card) that an opportune, dishonest thief takes advantage of and grabs. Loss prevention and security people have to have their eyes on these other things that are going on around the shopping experience to look out for the well being of the customer.

SIW: Does the fact that many retailers have pushed their Black Friday sales back into Thursday evening helped alleviate or added more to the plate of loss prevention professionals?

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