Gearing up for Black Friday

This week, people across the country will show up hours before retailers open their doors (and in some cases will even camp out) to take part in the annual day after Thanksgiving sales phenomenon that has become known as Black Friday. Many retailers this year, however, are not waiting until Friday to hold these special sales, opting instead to hold them Thanksgiving night. One Target worker has even started an online petition aimed at persuading the retail giant to remain closed on the holiday.

I have to admit, my wife and I used to partake in these sales until one day a couple of years ago we decided that the money saved was not worth the time and hassle. The items we targeted were usually gone by the time we made it through the doors anyway and I’m not pitching a tent to get a deal on a laptop from some company I’ve never heard of or a lower-end model from a name brand manufacturer.

My personal rant aside, Black Friday sales are extremely important for retailers and provide them with an early jolt for the Christmas shopping season. They also present a significant challenge for security managers, who are charged with the responsibility of ensuring that these large throngs of shoppers don’t devolve into an angry mob. According to retail security consultant Curtis Baillie, the number of retailers that took part in Black Friday sales at one time was very limited. However, Baillie said the success of these sales events has opened the eyes of smaller retailers and that crowds will only grow larger during these tough economic times.

"As the years went on, (Black Friday sales) got more and more popular and there wasn’t a thought put into crowd controls because we didn’t have the issues way back when that they do now," he said. "I think peoples’ attitudes are different and I think as the economy gets worse, people are waiting for these types of sales."

Even with some of the deadly outcomes we’ve seen associated with these sales, Baillie said some still fail to recognize the dangers of having inadequate crowd control measures in place.

"I do see some smaller retailers that have the attitude of 'well, something like that would happen at Wal-Mart isn’t going to happen to me,'" he said. "They’ve kind of got their heads stuck in the sand."

To mitigate some of the risks posed by Black Friday sales, Baillie said that it’s essential to have a security plan in effect to account for crowd control such as having organized lines outside of stores and handing out colored pieces of paper for specific sale items to the people in these lines. When the store runs out of these items, Baillie said there should be an announcement made to the crowd.

It also appears that retailers could be dealing with an entirely new issue on Black Friday, as one website is calling for the Occupy Wall Street movement to focus their attention on this year’s sales. The National Retail Federation also mentioned the protests as a threat in its new crowd management guidelines. Click here to weigh in on this issue in our forums.

I think the potential for the combustible elements of angry shoppers and "Occupy" demonstrations will keep the wife and I home again on Black Friday.