Crowd Management


With the holidays fast approaching, retailers are cooking up ways to draw big crowds. While drawing a crowd to generate sales is the event’s primary purpose, crowd safety should always be the top concern. But preparing for special events can be tricky, especially for the loss prevention professional who often must accept a given set of circumstances for the event and then manage it to ensure no security or safety breaches occur.

So how can retailers successfully plan for special events? The answer lies in getting involved early, according to Eric White, director of retail strategy, Wren, Jefferson City, Mo., which specializes in physical security technologies and services for retail, hospitality and other facilities.

“The earliest possible planning phase is the best time for LP to share their concerns and perspectives with the team, as they learn about others’ objectives,” White said. “LP professionals are creative and can work to improve the safety of just about any circumstance, as long as they have some lead time and the opportunity to be involved.”

Here are some suggestions from White on how a chain’s loss prevention department can contribute to the success of a crowded retail event:

  • Work the crowd and communicate

There are two sides to working the crowd: “selling” and “enforcing.” The “seller” is there to befriend the crowd, build a positive relationship and provide helpful instructions. “We’re going to open the doors in 15 minutes.” “Please be patient and do not push.” “We need you to form two lines.” Whatever the case may be, the seller delivers instructions and projects the positive brand image of the retailer.

The “enforcer” needs to watch over the crowd for problems and address conflicts. His duties could be anything from dealing with line-cutting incidences to removing disruptive individuals to watching out for health emergencies in the crowd. By monitoring the crowd and addressing problems early, the enforcer can prevent incidents from boiling over and putting people at risk.

  • Diffuse competitive situations

If only the first 100 customers receive a special discount, or if there are limited quantities available at a deep discount, the retailer has created a highly competitive situation. Sure, marketing does this to create a sense of urgency, but it is LP’s job to prevent customers from fighting. Smart LP pros know to issue armbands, pull-tickets or coupons to the early arrivals so they won’t rush the store when the doors eventually do open.

Further, communicating to all customers the status of the prized merchandise helps to relax those who will receive the items and helps those unfortunate customers who missed out make the decision to find substitutes or move on to another shopping location.

Finally, stocking the special merchandise throughout the store, rather than locating it in a single place, will encourage the crowd to disperse upon entering the store. By avoiding a mad rush, LP professionals can reduce the risk of conflicts and injuries.

  • Avoid panic

People panic if they feel trapped or unable to move freely within a crowd. Avoid panic by having exits clearly marked and free of any obstacles. Don’t snake lines, as this makes it difficult for people to disperse. Another idea is to break lines at reasonable intervals so that if a problem occurs, only one section of the total crowd is impacted. If a situation does occur, it’s important to take control and communicate clear instructions to everyone to stop panic in its tracks.

  • Create a sense of fairness

If a celebrity athlete has promised 100 autographs but walks out after only giving 50, have a plan to offer an alternative gift to the remaining customers, such as a gift card or a special offer. If someone breaks in line, address it—don’t leave it for the individuals to solve themselves. And remember, don’t frustrate customers by selecting “special guests” from the line and allowing them to skip ahead—designate a separate entrance for these guests.

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