Seeing red on Black Friday: Be prepared in case things get ugly

A recent study by Trustev showed that 31 percent of shoppers have been involved in or witnessed an in-store altercation on Black Friday.

Hyped up for limited-time offers and the purposeful scarcity of seasonal top sellers, is it really surprising that a shopper’s adrenaline surge sometimes turns ugly? Finite supply equates to zero sum shopping—most coveted items are either “won” or “lost” by shoppers who set out on a journey quite specifically to win.

Dallas Arnell witnessed a shoving match over the last M1911 semi-automatic pistol at a Cabela’s in Billings, Montana. Arnell wasn’t surprised that tension was high because that location had only four of the coveted pistols in the first place.

Though retailers seek big crowds and fat wallets on Black Friday with broad promotion of limited-time offers, most aren’t looking to populate YouTube with mall brawls or wrestling matches starring shoppers in their aisles. But storming the gates in a race to be the first to grab a few primo items is a recipe for disaster. Retailers can avoid consumer altercations with preparation according to Larry Gallagher, Corporate Loss Control Director of Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company. He recommends allocation of finite products via online lottery or wristbands that consumers bring in for retrieval of special items.

Adequate staffing is another key component to a successful Black Friday. Gallagher recommends having every register up and operational, stanchions for single-file lines, and uniformed off-duty police in stores and in parking lots for stores likely to have Black Friday crowds clamoring for big-ticket deals. Cabela’s staffs up for Black Friday with an incremental help of 15% seasonal workers, most working on that day. Special parking arrangements and catered meals help to ensure that employee-to-shopper ratio is high.

Gallagher reminds retailers to protect not just their customers but their employees as well. Remembering that seasonal workers are disproportionate on super-sized shopping days like Black Friday, those dealing with the most-hyped consumers may also be least experienced. He explains, “It’s often not the safest option for an employee to directly engage in a confrontation.” Instead, Gallagher recommends that employees quickly radio for a manager or even call local law enforcement directly if tensions escalate.

After so many years of hype, expansion of channel options and additional super-sale days may be creating Black Friday fatigue. Nearly two-thirds of respondents are sick of media-generated consumerism and 32% say they won’t be participating in Black Friday deals according to the Trustev survey. The reality is consumers are still extremely motivated to find the hottest products at the best prices…and are willing to go to some trouble to get the most for the least, so retailers are wise to prepare for the worst.

For more information

Read Grinnell Mutual's Loss Control Bulletin "Security and Violence Prevention in Retail Stores" for tips on preventing theft and violent acts in your store. Read how security cameras can protect your business.

This article first appeared on Forbes.com. Reposted with permission.