Have revamped 'Black Friday' sales improved security for retailers?

Nov. 20, 2014
NRF's Bob Moraca discusses lessons learned and how LP professionals should approach this holiday shopping season

Each year, millions of shoppers flock to retail stores across the U.S. on the day after Thanksgiving to take advantage of deep discounts on big ticket items in what has become known as “Black Friday.” According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), 141 million Americans shopped by the end of Thanksgiving weekend last year, and more than 92 million people shopped on Black Friday alone.  

While the majority of these sales events occur without any problems, Black Friday has unfortunately become synonymous with unruly crowds of people, some of whom have duked it out with fellow shoppers or even trampled store employees, to get their hands on merchandise they covet. However, retailers have learned valuable lessons from Black Friday sales that went awry in the past and are increasingly implementing new strategies to quell potential crowd frenzy.

In recent years, some stores have opted to begin opening on Thanksgiving night, rather than have people lineup during the early morning hours for a sale that starts at 6 a.m. According to a story published earlier this month by the Wall Street Journal, Wal-Mart is spreading their Black Friday sale this year over a five-day period. Other large big-box retailers have taken a similar approach in moving away from one-day sales events for Black Friday.

Despite this shift in tactics by some stores, crowds control is still expected to be a significant issue for retail security this year. Among the NRF’s recommendations for crowd management include:

  • Remind and retrain all employees about your store’s emergency protocols to address potential risks facing employees and customers.
  • Dedicate knowledgeable employees to communicate and manage crowds, from arrival to departure, and resolve any potential conflicts that may arise.
  • Strategically place sale items throughout the store to help disperse crowds and manage traffic flow.
  • Request the assistance of local law enforcement if large crowds are expected and arrange for additional security services.
  • Educate employees about relevant policies and procedures and advise them who to contact in the event of a situation.

SIW recently caught up with Bob Moraca, vice president of loss prevention for the NRF, to get his take on what kind of impact these new Black Friday sales approaches will have on retail security, as well as some of the threats that loss prevention managers should be ready to mitigate against this holiday season.

SIW: What are some new strategies being employed by retailers this year to reduce or space out the crowds that have come to mark Black Friday?

Moraca: More and more, retailers are coming up with creative ways to thwart the problem of people rushing the door when stores open for what used to be called “door buster” sales. You’ll notice that, even in the advertising, no one is using those terms anymore and it just comes from the sensitivity the industry has to using terms like that after people literally broke down doors and injured people in some situations over the years. At the end of the day, the terminology around these events – “can’t miss sale” or “first store open sale” – they are renaming and rebranding those things.

Another thing that I found to be pretty creative is what’s been tabbed as the golden ticket approach. This is when a store has done their prep work, they have an area where shoppers can be cordoned off, law enforcement in the region has been notified, extra security people have been brought on, security cameras are keeping watch on the exterior of the building so you can react if there is a problem – these are all the standard things that should be done - and then they also have an LP professional or someone at the store in a high-level position, as people arrive at the store they literally give them a gold ticket with a number on it or a color-coded wrist band that says, “hey, you’re here early, we only have 75 of these products we’re selling.” It’s nice because everyone else understands that the urgency to rush in there has been taken away.

SIW: Do you believe that stretching these sales out over several days will have a positive impact as well?

Moraca: A couple of retailers have made a move to open on Thanksgiving day and I think there will be some shoppers who want to go out and enjoy the holiday early that way. That, in itself, helps spread out the sales, which are also longer now. I see very little advertising where they say: From 5 to 5:30 a.m., we’ll have this special during this period of time. Most retailers are stretching out the availability of the high-value and hot items for the season and thus alleviating the mad rush that you could possibly get.

SIW: Obviously, crowd control remains the biggest issue on Black Friday, but what are some other things that stores need to be aware of from a security standpoint this holiday shopping season?

Moraca: We’re always aware that when you do have larger crowds and larger volumes of people, you’re always going to have what I call the knucklehead factor that will also increase. There’s going to be some individuals that want to come into your store with ill intent of either stealing, shoplifting or committing credit card fraud and taking advantage of the high-volume and busyness of the season. We try to retrain and reestablish good, tried and true loss prevention procedures. When your handling credit card transactions, make sure you ask for identification and make sure the card matches up with the individual. Also, making sure you follow all of the protocols, even with the hustle and bustle of the season, is very important because you don’t want to cut yourself short.

You want to make sure that there is enough loss prevention professionals, store detectives and others available and on the sales floor taking care of their business because criminals can identify when a store is being run well and being run clean. Frankly, like anything else, criminals will take the path of least resistance. Hopefully, they’ll see that you’re prepared for problems and issues and they’ll move on to easier pickings.

SIW: How much emphasis are retailers putting on cybersecurity this holiday season given the fallout from last year’s data breach at Target?

Moraca: Cyber breach issues are huge and not just that, but people swiping others’ credit cards and identities, and those things also tend to rise during the holiday season and anytime we’re doing more shopping. Every retailer has been upgrading and enhancing their controls in the area of information technology and security. No retailer wants to be the next name out there (in the press). Rest assured, retailers are putting in maximum amounts of effort to keep credit card information safe and remain PCI-compliant and beyond.

SIW: What do you expect the impact of new mobile payment methods like Apple Pay and apps created by individual stores will have on keeping crowd frenzy to a minimum?

Moraca: Mobile pay is on the rise and it’s a positive dilemma that retailers are dealing with. I think that it will help people, to a large extent, in being able to avoid some of the lines for checkout and things of that nature. Alternatively, there has been a rise in self-service checkout lanes at a number of different retailers to spread that process out.

SIW: Are there any types of drills or exercises that retailers and their security teams need to be conducting with employees to prepare for the holiday rush?

Moraca: Every retailer has an all-hazards plan - whether it is a natural disaster, criminal act, a fire or an explosion – they all have all-hazards plans that they do practice and drill and go over with their employees. This time of the season, they need to educate employees about policies and procedures, advise them who to contact in the event of an emergency and how to handle an emergency. In an emergency, the industry believes you play like you practice so practicing and drilling are paramount and retailers are doing that continually, especially in the run up to the holidays.

About the Author

Joel Griffin | Editor-in-Chief, SecurityInfoWatch.com

Joel Griffin is the Editor-in-Chief of SecurityInfoWatch.com, a business-to-business news website published by Endeavor Business Media that covers all aspects of the physical security industry. Joel has covered the security industry since May 2008 when he first joined the site as assistant editor. Prior to SecurityInfoWatch, Joel worked as a staff reporter for two years at the Newton Citizen, a daily newspaper located in the suburban Atlanta city of Covington, Ga.