Black Friday breakdown reveals 2012 opportunity

As retailers assess what worked and what didn’t in terms of Black Friday promotions and Thanksgiving weekend sales, overall there are a few things that stand out.

The early opening hours, 10 p.m. at Walmart and midnight at many others, made it easier for more people to participate while unseasonably warm weather nationwide contributed to an unprecedented level of shopper traffic the National Retail Federation put just north of 80 million. Not surprisingly, the huge volume of people translated to record sales and the momentum carried over to Cyber Monday when a new online sales record also was set.

The other positive takeaway that didn’t get much attention is the fact that no one died or was seriously injured, and there were relatively few incidents of shoppers gone wild. Granted, those instances where shoppers did behave poorly quickly found there way on to YouTube and the footage is disturbing to watch. However, if you think about the mass of humanity that turns out for Black Friday and the competitive instincts that kick in when cash-strapped shoppers vie for limited quantities of discounted merchandise it is surprising there weren’t more incidents of quick-tempered shoppers pushing, shoving, getting knocked down, tearing apart displays and generally behaving in a manner you can only hope they regretted the next day.

While crowd control measures are far from perfect at Walmart stores, the retailer deserves credit for addressing some of the shortcomings that existed just a few years ago when a worker at a store in Long Island, New York was trampled. Moving availability of the first round of Black Friday deals forward to 10 p.m. surely helped because stores were already open, which meant shoppers didn’t have to wait outside in a line, a feature the retailer called out in advertising. The staggered availability of deals meant after the first wave at 10 p.m., others kicked in at midnight and still others at 8 a.m. It also helped that store maps showing the location of featured items were available on the Internet so as to simplify the challenge of finding goods in stores choked with people.

Even with these measures in place, some stores’ parking lots will never be large enough nor the aisles wide enough to accommodate the mass of humanity that feels compelled to visit Walmart on Black Friday. Ultimately, these people bear responsibility for their actions and when they choose to behave in a civil manner or like crazed animals devouring the last shreds of meat from a picked over carcass.

It would be one thing if on Black Friday Walmart employees had incited pandemonium by shooting wads of $100 bills out of T-shirt cannons, essentially the retail equivalent of shouting “fire!” in a crowded theater. Then maybe some of the bad behavior shown on YouTube would be understandable, but Walmart is simply offering discounted prices on popular electronics, toys and other goods that are widely available at competitors at comparable prices which hardly warrant any type of unruliness.

Nevertheless, we are talking Walmart here so the onus is always going to be on the company to provide a safe environment in which customers can shop. That means thinking through every potential thing that could go wrong when formulating a Black Friday strategy, but even then it seems there will always be some shoppers whose behavior defies logic and they will be the one who wind up on YouTube.

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