How to Keep Your Business on the Nice List: Tips for Holiday Shopping Crowd Control

Effective crowd management should be a year-round priority for retailers, but Black Friday and the ensuing holiday shopping season elevates the importance of crowd control. It seems like each holiday season the media reports several incidents of out of control crowds at retail locations, whether it be a swarm of customers trampling one another to get through the doors or an altercation between customers over the last iPad on the shelf.

According to a recent National Retail Federation (NRF) Holiday Consumer Spending Survey, nearly half of holiday shoppers say they haven’t started shopping yet. Instead, shoppers are waiting until Black Friday in the hopes of finding great promotions to maximize their spending power. In 2013, 248.7 million consumers shopped over the Thanksgiving weekend, with 92.1 million hitting the stores on Black Friday alone. To help manage the risk presented by such an influx of shoppers, NRF has released Effective Crowd Management Guidelines. Although these guidelines are useful for special events and promotions held throughout the year, they are particularly helpful in preparing for the upcoming busy holiday shopping season.

The guidelines provide detailed recommendations, but here are some general considerations to minimize potential issues:

• Proactively plan and prepare for special events.
• Have an emergency plan in place to address potential dangers, such as overcrowding, aggressive shoppers, violence, and inclement weather.
• Clearly communicate event details to employees and customers through the use of signage, stanchions/barriers, public announcements, and tickets or wristbands for limited or first-come, first-serve items.
• Manage customer expectations on wait time and product availability by keeping them informed of event status and traffic flow.
• If large crowds are expected at store opening, implement a staggered entry system that permits a set number of customers to enter at a time.
• Allow some open space between customers lined up to enter and the store entrance.
• Never block or lock exit doors and prop them open to decrease safety hazards. Provide an alternate entrance for customers with disabilities.
• Strategically place high-demand items throughout the store to disperse the crowd and better manage traffic flow. Plan for merchandise replenishment.
• Contact local law enforcement if large crowds are expected and arrange for additional security personnel.
• Review relevant policies and procedures with employees well in advance of an event and reiterate these items on the day of the event.
• Designate knowledgeable employees solely to communicate with customers and attempt to resolve issues. Empower these employees to resolve issues without the need to consult another team member.
• Appoint several management team members as emergency contacts and communicate to employees to importance of contacting these team members in the event of an emergency, such as a guest injury or overly aggressive customer.
• Train employees about event details and promotional items, including merchandise placement and timing of special/hourly promotions.
• For a large scale event, conduct a dress rehearsal in advance.

NRF is a respected industry organization. A customer involved in a personal injury or loss prevention-type incident during a high-traffic special event or promotion could rely on NRF guidelines as evidence of the standard of care in a lawsuit. Therefore, it is important to manage risk from the outset by being familiar with the guidelines and incorporating them into your special event or promotion where appropriate.

NRF’s Effective Crowd Management Guidelines can be found at

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