Retailers Need to Protect and Serve Black Friday Shoppers
It’s a fact of American retailing. Bad things happen in and around (some) stores on Black Friday.
It’s really not a surprise when you consider conditions including:
- Sleep deprived consumers "camping out" to be among the first to rush into stores as they open during late night or early morning hours.
- The perception that there are one-time only deals available on a very limited basis (product quantities and sales time frame).
- Personal and financial factors that make obtaining specific items a source of stress for individual consumers.
- A lack of security in areas of a store where consumers are physically competing for prizes, such as a hot toy, game or electronic gadget.
An incident in Los Angeles that occurred during an early Thanksgiving night opening is an interesting case. Initial reports suggested that a woman, identified in accounts as a "competitive shopper," used pepper spray on her fellow shoppers to keep them from grabbing video games she wanted for herself.
Another account, reported yesterday, suggests that the woman may actually have used the pepper spray in self defense. In this version, shoppers in the store had turned into a mob and rushed a pallet containing gaming systems that were still wrapped in plastic. The woman, fearing for her safety as shoppers crushed the area, used the spray to protect herself.
"I’m not saying it was right. It could have been a situation that she was in fear for her safety, that she would be crushed," said LAPD Det. Mike Fesperman, told the Los Angeles Times. "It (this case) comes down to whether it was a matter of self-preservation or she was trying to gain access to the games."
Regardless of which account is correct, the store in question was clearly not prepared for what occurred. In some respects, it is easier to give the retailer the benefit of a doubt in the first version. After all, how can any merchant really be expected to protect workers or shoppers from an individual who violently acts out in a store without warning.
The second account, however, suggests a store was not prepared to open its doors when a display is still encased in plastic and customers are clawing to get at deals so heavily promoted by the merchant.
"People started screaming, pulling and pushing each other, and then the whole area filled up with pepper spray," Alejandra Seminario told the LA Times. "I guess what triggered it was people started pulling the plastic off the pallets and then shoving and bombarding the display of games. It started with people pushing and screaming because they were getting shoved onto the boxes."
- Black Friday arrests, injuries irk shoppers at Walmart – USA Today
- Wal-Mart pepper-spraying might have been self-defense, LAPD says – Los Angeles Times
Discussion Questions: Are retailers responsible in any part for creating the conditions that lead to security issues on Black Friday? What, if anything, should retailers be doing beyond what they are doing now to make sure customers and workers are safe?