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All they want for Christmas is a horde of well-mannered shoppers

Retailers have a fervent wish every year for a major boost in sales during the holiday shopping season. With Thanksgiving falling so late in November this year, it was especially important that more shoppers spend more than usual on Black Friday. Some stores even tried to up their numbers by opening on Thanksgiving Day.

As retail executives and store managers court the crowds, they are also working on crowd control. The more shoppers the better for the bottom line, but if a shopper or employee is injured or, worse, killed in the rush for door busters, the bottom line will suffer. A bad experience will not only sour shoppers on a store, but an injury on the premises can cost a company a pretty penny.

Shopper and worker safety have always been priorities for retailers, especially busy general merchandisers like Wal-Mart and Target, but the death of a Wal-Mart clerk a few years ago forced every retailer to rethink its holiday rush crowd control strategies.

The worker died on Black Friday, 2008, when he was knocked down and trampled by a crowd anxious to enter the store for a "Blitz Friday" promotion. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Wal-Mart Stores Inc. $7,000 for "inadequate crowd management." The store had made employees vulnerable, OSHA said, by failing to put reasonable and effective crowd management principles in place. OSHA also chided Wal-Mart for not giving employees "the necessary training and tools to safely manage the large crowd of shoppers."

How did Wal-Mart respond? We'll discuss that in our next post.

Source: Insurance Journal, "Retailers Step Up Security as ‘Rambunctious’ Holiday Shopping Begins," Cotten Timberlake and Renee Dudley, Dec. 1, 2013

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