Retailers Need to Protect and Serve Black Friday Shoppers

Discussion
Nov 29, 2011
George Anderson

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."

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?

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16 Comments on "Retailers Need to Protect and Serve Black Friday Shoppers"


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Dick Seesel
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Of course retailers share some responsibility for the safety of their customers (and associates) on Black Friday, and at all other times. (This doesn’t excuse bad behavior by individuals such as the pepper-sprayer in Los Angeles.) Big-box retailers are disingenuous if they haven’t figured out by now that the hype, early hours and doorbusters are going to cause stampedes in some locations. Having a crowd control plan and hiring extra security are the least that stores can do to avoid these kinds of episodes.

Ian Percy
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Is this a serious question?

Let’s see. Put something stupid like a waffle iron on for $2. A product that 99% of the mob weren’t even thinking of needing or buying. Pile them all up in one small place, preferably somewhere in the middle of the stampede lane. And even better, according to the story, keep them wrapped up in the shipping plastic so people have to claw at them creating even more frenzy. Then be sure to hold people outside until the door hinges are threatened and then let them all run in at once.

Nah, the store isn’t responsible when someone gets hurt.

No one will admit to this dark side of course, but stores love it when these videos go viral. It does get a little awkward when when there’s a pool of blood on the floor or when someone is killed. But then just promise, like you did last year, to “review” the process. You’ll be fine.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
9 years 5 months ago
Of course retailers — with an able assist from the media — are responsible for part of this mess. That said, we really do live in a nation of sheep who appear to be compelled to shop Black Friday as if it were some new form of patriotic national sport — a sort of consumer version of rugby or ultimate fighting except without officials. But, opening at midnight or four in the morning with very limited availability on highly promoted and/or discounted items is a proven technique for getting the herd to stampede. Maybe all retailers should be forced to watch “Miracle on 34th Street” 100 times between Halloween and the holiday period. And … while I’m on it … it wouldn’t hurt to start the December holiday period in … oh, say, December … rather than right after the Fourth of July. I have come to think of the fourth quarter as Hollogivingmas with an emphasis on the “Hollow” part. Who knows? It might catch on! I mean what’s a vowel among fanatics? Retailers… Read more »
Liz Crawford
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Retailers are responsible. Retailers are businesses that have access to data that show the number of Black Friday shoppers has more than doubled in the last five years to over 22 million. Near-riot conditions have ensued in some cases. Can the retailer sit back and say, “Oh well! Crazy shoppers!”?

Responsible merchants should take several defensive measures to help ensure “safe shopping.” Displays and pallets can be scattered in several locations so that there are many opportunities to navigate toward and acquire merchandise. Special Black Friday signage and traffic procedures need to be installed to direct the flow and warn about unacceptable behaviors. Security guards need to know the “warning signs” of a mob fulminating.

In some areas, shoppers may need to be screened — like going into an airport or the old Copacabana night club. I remember dancing at the Copa and going through a metal-detector and a weapons-drop. While I didn’t have any weapons, I was relieved to see that my fellow revelers surrendered theirs for the evening.

Doug Fleener
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Hype is good, but mob scenes and base press isn’t. We’ve already had one person die as a result of a Black Friday mob. It’s only a matter of time it’s going to be a child or a large group of people if we don’t improve even more.

I think the key is to stop the “run for the products” and require customer to queue up in product lines to purchase the Black Friday specials.

Max Goldberg
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Retailers have to know that incredibly low prices on hot items will spark a rush of consumers. In most instances the mob is orderly. Occasionally things get out of hand. The best laid plans can go astray. Good security, crowd control and extra staff on the floor can help manage crowds. There are questions about whether Walmart was really ready for the rush in its Porter Ranch store.

Roy White
Guest
Roy White
9 years 5 months ago

Retailers, of course, have a perfect right to promote; they can’t function otherwise. But a combination of a public still stretching slim resources with media hype, over-the-top discounts/promotions, and crazy opening hours has resulted in some ugly incidents. These incidents should be a lesson learned in terms of operations. Given that many consumers are by no means out of the woods economically, a successful retailer will find a way operationally to manage openings, displays, and security so that the power of discounting doesn’t turn sour and turn shoppers off.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Obviously individuals are responsible for individual behavior. On the other hand retailers who purposely work to increase the excitement by offering products for an amazing price in small quantities are also to blame. After several unfortunate incidents in the lines of people waiting to enter the store and during the door opening process, many stores do provide security guards at that spot. Retailers also need to be ready for the crowds by having the products out and on display and unwrapped from the shipping containers. When the products are offered at really low prices in limited quantities as an enticement for consumers, the retailers have a responsibility to facilitate the process and protect consumers.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

I’m astounded no one yet has said “buyer beware.” All good Americans know that guns don’t kill, people do. And obesity is entirely a matter of personal responsibility, which does not need any kind of government/nanny regulation or interference.

Any consumer not aware of the potential risks involved in indulging their greed at the same time that hundreds or thousands of other shoppers do the same deserves everything they get. Retailers have a duty to do the best they can to sell and make money for their investors. It is not up to them to protect people from their own base behavior.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Mom was right….use oven mitts when taking a hot pan out of the stove, don’t walk on the railroad tracks, and don’t camp out for Black Friday deals. Retailers haven’t mastered the art of crowd control, and customers with unrealistic expectations think that they’re going to be the one who comes home with a $100 flat screen. Eek.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Have a crowd control plan and also a method for giving numbers on a first-come, first-served bases. This is a distribution problem at the buying end.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

What Ian Percy said.

James Tenser
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Oh, how ironic that a positive annual event — retailers’ balance sheets tipping past profitability for the year — has earned a new and much darker significance.

Black Friday was an accountants’ term until a few years ago. Now the media and even the retail ads themselves have co-opted it as a trigger for acquisitive frenzy.

Of course retailers are responsible for fomenting bad public behavior among tryptophan-addled shoppers. Competitiveness and loss of self-control are desirable, after all, since they lead to less-rational purchase decisions.

The tiny percentage of truly bizarre shopper behaviors — stampedes, pepper spray, overnight camping in parking lots — probably occur at rates that would be predicted in population studies with or without holiday sales. Good thing too, as otherwise what would TV news correspondents and witty bloggers have to comment on?

David Slavick
Guest
David Slavick
9 years 5 months ago

I think retailers need to steal a page from Southwest Airlines — work the entry to the store based on when you arrive and your boarding number will determine when you enter the store. Likewise, the risk department along with legal at the corporate levels had better step up their oversight management in this area — is it worthwhile to get slapped with a lawsuit for physical harm, lack of administrative control? G-d forbid a child is trampled in the stampede, so word to the wise in the c-suite — get your act together at the store ops level for 2012. A buying binge…$52B over the weekend…cash over care…very sad.

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Do you have any idea how ridiculous Americans look to the rest of the world when incidents like this happen? Considering the press both the retailers and mobsters get over these occurrences, I would expect them to continue, and escalate, until people wise up. Kicking and fighting over a xBox game; is this what our country is all about?!

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

First of all, what has happened to our holiday season?! THIS is how we celebrate it now? UGH!! Bottom line, if there is a mob waiting outside to get in the store, LIMIT THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE ENTERING! Just allow a controlled number of shoppers in at a time and enforce the rest to continue to wait outside … OR … SHOP ONLINE! Crazy.

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