With an estimated 140 million Americans predicted to shop this weekend, retailers are bolstering security, deploying Segway patrols and putting on live music to distract shoppers and avoid the deal-hunting scrums that can foster Black Friday tramplings.
Malls are beefing up patrols with off-duty cops. Chains including Wal-Mart Stores are using quota systems for popular doorbusters from iPads to jewelry. The National Retail Federation (NFR) issued crowd-management guidelines, urging stores to prepare for flash mobs, long lines of angry customers and crowded washrooms. The trade group, based in Washington, D.C., has sent out the memo annually since a Wal-Mart worker was trampled to death in 2008 during a Black Friday melee.
Sales from Black Friday through Cyber Monday will increase 2.2 percent to $40.5 billion, IBISWorld predicted. General merchandisers such as Wal-Mart, Target
typically attract the biggest crowds. That’s because shoppers want to get everything at one place on a day when traffic and parking are challenging, said Rich Mellor, the NRF’s vice president of loss prevention.
Shoppers are “anxious to be first,” he said. “They get really rambunctious coming in the door. You have to be informative so they’re not going crazy looking for whatever.”
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With more stores opening on Thanksgiving, malls have been seeing more guests who drank too much booze with their turkey, said Garth Gasse, director of retail operations and asset protection at the Retail Industry Leaders Association, an Arlington, Va., trade group.
“They’ve probably consumed a few and they probably shouldn’t be out shopping,” Gasse said.
Even as retailers prepare for potential trouble during the annual shopathon, they’re piling on the discounts to persuade wary shoppers to spend. The uneven U.S. economic recovery, with its lackluster jobs growth, has undermined consumers’ confidence to make discretionary purchases. On Nov. 22, ShopperTrak, a Chicago-based researcher, reiterated a projection that holiday sales will advance 2.4 percent, the smallest rise since 2009.
In recent years, Wal-Mart worked with crowd-management experts and devised plans to address how shoppers flow through and out of its stores, Randy Hargrove, a company spokesman, said in an email. Last year, the chain began offering a One-Hour Guarantee that allows shoppers who are inside a store within one hour of a sales event to buy a given item and take it home that day or before Christmas, he said.
This year, Wal-Mart will distribute wristbands for its 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. special events on Thanksgiving Day. To prevent a rush, shoppers with wristbands can return two hours after an event starts to pick up their purchases.
Best Buy, which held dress rehearsals for its staff last week, has revived a Black Friday ticketing system, said Jeff Shelman, a spokesman. Staff members hand out tickets equal to the number of doorbuster items it is selling. Shoppers can ask for tickets for as many different doorbusters as they want, and can purchase a maximum of one of each category. They are given plenty of time to pick up their items.
“That prevents the need for a big rush to get to the pile of TVs or whatever the hot item is,” Shelman said.
At Target, security staff are riding Segways in the parking lots to increase their visibility, said Jessica Stevens, a spokeswoman. Hanging signs will direct shoppers to hot items spread throughout the store to ensure they’re plenty of room to shop, she said.
The local police department in Bloomington, Minnesota, location of Mall of America, one of the nation’s largest, puts extra officers on duty during peak holiday shopping hours, said Vic Poyer, a deputy chief. Tomorrow, about a dozen will direct traffic outside, paid for by the shopping center.
“The mall knows they’ve got to get people in and out,” he said. “If they have a bad experience, they won’t come back.”