Black Friday, the traditional kickoff day for the Holiday sales season is only 10 days away. Let’s look at the lessons learned from last year’s Black Friday’s tragic event after a disorderly crowd trampled to death Jdimytai Damour, a WalMart temporary worker.
Let’s work on the premise that retailers have a duty to provide a safe shopping environment for their shoppers or “invited guests”. Meaning they must take reasonable and foreseeable steps to protect there shoppers. This not only includes the interior of the store, but also the surrounding parking lot. In the case of a shopping mall, there may be some shared responsibility by both the retailer and the shopping mall owner.
In the case of WalMart they sought the expert advice from the people responsible for securing the crowds at major sporting events. One of the contributing causes that lead to last years disastrous event at the Valley Stream, NY (Green Acres) Mall was many of the shoppers were in their cars, waiting for the store to open for the 5 a.m. Black Friday sales event. When the time came to open the store’s doors the customers who were waiting in their cars exited and rushed the door, mixing with the crowd waiting in line.
This year WalMart will open their stores at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving day and remain open through Friday evening thus eliminating the early morning rush. Another measure taken by WalMart is customers will be allowed to line up in the various departments where the “sale” merchandise is located. In the past this has not always worked well. One major retailer, who has done this in the past, experienced an incident where when the time came to start the sale the employees responsible for handing the merchandise to the customers panicked when the “countdown” started the crowd rushed the pallets. The employees started throwing the boxes up in the air into the crowd, striking a customer in the head causing a reported brain injury. As the customer fell to the floor, she was stepped on causing further injury.
Retailers must take the necessary steps to safeguard their shoppers during Black Friday and other door buster shopping events. Some of my recommendations include:
- Erecting stanchions or post barricades to control the influx of customers. Use steel barricades; although they are more expensive, are also much sturdier. This equipment can be rented.
- Some retailers issue color-coded numbered coupons to customers waiting in line. Only hand out coupons for the numbers of special priced items available for purchase in the store. Numbered wristbands also work well. Customers who fail to get a coupon or wristband can opt out, thus making the line more organized.
- Have an employee work the line handing out maps of the store, indicating where the sale merchandise is located in the store. Place special signing in the store directing customers to the sale merchandise. Station highly visible key employees around the store who are able to communicate to management when suspected problem areas develop. Use a two-way communication system.
- Management should talk to the customers in line about the sale. Give precautions about safety and the customer's etiquette expected. Don’t forget to document the safety measures dictated to the customers waiting in line. Documentation of your preperation and execution could work in your favor in case of a lawsuit.
- Retailers who are expecting large turnouts should consider hiring off-duty uniformed police officers or contracting with a security service to provide uniformed security officers.
- Retailers have hired entertainers, such as clowns and magicians, to occupy the attention of customers waiting in lines. This has the effect of grabbing the crowd’s attention directing focus away from waiting for the doors to open. A secondary benefit to this is customers will remember your store for the fun time they had while waiting in line. Amusement park operators long ago learned this lesson.
- Make sure all of your employees are included in the event planning process and know exactly what role they play in providing a safe shopping experience for your customers.
Do not take the attitude of “this can’t happen at my store.” Be pro-active. Try to envision (foresee) problems that might occur during your special sales event. Have a great Holiday. Have a safe Holiday.
Curtis Baillie - Security Consulting Strategies, LLC