Obligatory Black Friday Stampede Death PostDecember 2, 2008
I know I’m more than a few days late on this. I apologize, but I’ve been a little busy with other stuff. But hey, better late than never:
Having worked in retail for over a decade, and witnessing my share of craziness on Black Friday (years ago, I remember telling myself that I had lost hope in humanity the day I saw one sweet old lady shove another over a free clock radio), I figured that I better comment on this.
I was getting my daily dose of talk radio the day after it happened, and as usual, there were quite a few opinions about who was to blame and questions about what would drive such madness, but there was something that I didn’t hear anyone point out. That is, the notion that this wasn’t “stuff” that people were jockeying for. This was money.
Here’s the thing. Assume for a second that you’re predisposed to buy a 50″ plasma TV. You’re going to buy one. Assume again that the regular cost is $1600. So, if a local retailer is advertising that they can get this same TV for $800 if you’re one of the first people through the doors at 5 AM, you’re not racing for the TV. You’re racing for the other $800.
So, for the sake of making a point, imagine that your local bank put out an advertisement that said that they’re giving away stacks of cash, and you’ll get it if you’re one of the first people through the door. Does anyone have any illusions about what kind of mob scene they’d have on their hands? I don’t think so. I would think that any rational person might even suggest that the bank make sure that they have police donning riot gear on hand. Now, if the bank had no preparation, and in the chaos someone got trampled to death. Does one blame the mob, or the stupid people at the bank?
At what point does a “door buster” sale become as dangerous as yelling “FIRE” in a crowded theater?
Now, I know that the “stacks of cash” may be an exaggeration of an example, and I’m sure that there are a certain number of shoppers out there that are more motivated by some bragging rights than pure greed, but the point is that there are certain precautions that these retailers need to take in the way of crowd control if they’re going to do this sort of thing. There’s certainly no excuse for being taken by surprise, since I watched it get a little worse year after year (at least from where I was sitting).
I know what you’re thinking. Like “OK genius, what would YOU do to control the mob?” And I’d naturally segue into what we did at our store, which actually worked quite well. You see, instead of handling the customers in a chaotic reaction to a metaphorical dam-breaking (like obviously happened at this WalMart), we’d catch the customers as they came in the parking lot. We’d have greeters out there early, meeting people as they came in. We’d talk to them, ask what items they intended on purchasing, and gave them a voucher for those items. And since we only had as many vouchers for each item as we had items, there was no risk of people fighting over them. No voucher, no item. Customers could take off, have breakfast, and come back and pick up their thing. Does it ruin the “thrill” of chaotic holiday shopping? Probably. But, heck, no one died at least.
Anyway, one really has to wonder what the hell these employees at the WalMart must have been thinking to themselves as they saw the mob of a couple thousand people gather outside. I’m guessing that, at some point, the management realized that they had gotten a little over their heads. But what did they do? Because they obviously didn’t adequately prepare for what came barging down their doors, I’m inclined to blame WalMart for the tragedy (unlike the hosts of my local FM talk show).