The UK doesn’t celebrate the US holiday of Thanksgiving, traditionally held on the fourth Thursday of November. But for the past two or three years it has started to observe Black Friday, the retail free-for-all on the following day.
Last year’s event attracted widespread negative publicity with reports of disorder in stores and malls as shoppers scrambled for bargains. Lukasz Nalewaj, deputy director of event and public safety at the Emergency Planning College, Easingwold listed a selection of unwelcome events:
- In Middleton, 200 shoppers refused to leave, despite being told that all the stock had been sold.
- In Stretford, one woman was injured when she was struck by a falling TV.
- In Salford, one male was arrested after threatening to ‘smash a member of staff’s face in’. One woman also broke her wrist in a crush.
- In Wigan, police officers were called to several hundred people trying to enter a store.
- Fighting broke out at a store in Hattersley, resulting in one man being arrested.
It is significant that the company credited with – or blamed for – bringing Back Friday to the UK, Walmart, will not be taking part this year, saying the event had failed to generate profitable sales through its Asda stores.
Despite this, new research from intu shows the majority of UK shoppers are looking to shop on Black Friday, with three in five respondents (58 per cent) stating that they will shop on the day either online, in store, or both. In 2014, intu saw a 30 per cent increase in footfall in its shopping centres on Black Friday and a similar increase is expected this time round. As a result intu will be extending opening hours on the day across all of its centres.
Operations director Gordon McKinnon said: “Due to the infancy of Black Friday in the UK, there is some degree of caution, from both retailers and shoppers, as well as uncertainty about what will happen. Black Friday is like Marmite – you either love it or hate it – so while the majority of our shoppers plan to spend their money on attractive deals, there are others who are not planning to shop on the day at all. With the genie now out of the bottle, participating retailers must meticulously prepare for the day to attract customers and deliver the best shopping experience possible.”
So what steps can centres take? Easinwold’s Nalewaj said they “should learn from the past and take appropriate action to prevent similar occurrences, consider their advertising and mitigate possible law suits from families of victims and casualties.”
Easingwold’s Event and Public Safety Faculty recommend incorporating planning with the Analysis, Prediction, Response (APR) model, a tool that helps managers recognise, understand and plan for potential issues involving crowds.
- Analyse the likely crowd profile, premises, variables and the actual event you are organising – a ‘sale’ in this case;
- Predict each phase of the event (i.e. sale) and its possible development and how this will affect shopper behaviour;
- Identify options for how to respond to safety challenges - not only for your own employees but also customers who are visiting your premises.
“The Model is about ensuring that no harm comes to the public or staff” concluded Nalewaj. “IT allows managers to foresee and understand shoppers’ behaviour, mapping and identifying the crowd’s expectations, patterns of behaviour and the likely demographics of visitors.
“By following this model you will significantly improve the chances of having profitable, but safe and orderly events. In other words, you will benefit from the positive aspects of Black Friday without putting the public and employees at unnecessary risk thereby jeopardising your security, safety and reputation.”