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Comment: How will retailers cope with today's Black Friday crowds asks Rebecca Fennell of Tensator

Last year, as thousands of UK shoppers queued through the night outside department stores and supermarkets, determination to make the most of the heady discounts even led to the Police being called to break up brawls. Shoppers were even injured in the stampede as doors opened.

It’s clear this cannot continue. Cynics might say retailers are banking on media coverage of this hype to generate publicity – but it’s not good PR if stores fail to look after their visitors in an appropriate way, or even encourage dangerous shopping habits.

To ensure shoppers stay as safe as they possibly can while still maximising revenue opportunities, many rules we associate with hosting major events at other times of year can be applied to the last Friday in November.

Many stores across the UK will have been planning Black Friday for months, and some may even debrief this afternoon in order to plan for 2016. This isn’t necessarily the case for smaller, independent retailers, however. 

In a recent national survey conducted exclusively with Retail Design World, it was discovered that 50 per cent of store managers and shop owners did not plan for Black Friday, nor did they give thought to crowd control measures.

Though our survey also indicated brands are convinced Black Friday is nothing more than a fad, it is a time to ask questions that go above and beyond a standard trading day.

Do retailers need additional staff to maintain a high standard of service? Does the store layout adequately cater for an increased, highly dense footfall? Have retailers highlighted important points throughout the store, such as exits, toilets or pay points? Can the crowds easily complete their purchases in an organised fashion, with appropriate signage and retractable barriers leading people towards where they need to go?

The customer journey remains an integral piece to the shopping experience – and this can be forgotten when the focus on days like Black Friday is all about price tags. But from the entrance right to the checkout, stores today should be even easier to navigate, organised, clean and hazard-free.

During Black Friday, successful stores will have employed sufficient security measures in case of crowds. Perhaps they have introduced new cordoned-off queuing routes to slow people down. These are flexible enough to move throughout the day while adapting to traffic.

There will be hundreds of shoppers today who forget their manners. This is bound to happen when the deals are so tempting, but the most successful and responsible retailers will anticipate this, monitoring traffic flow on a regular basis and strategically positioning products or deals in key areas of the store in order to keep customers engaged, informed and panic-free.

Ultimately, no store wants an injury on their hands. Nor does it want to infuriate staff with less-than-satisfactory preparation.

It remains to be seen whether Black Friday will continue to be such an important date in the retail calendar in years to come. But, with the provision of well-rehearsed crowd control measures alongside considerate store design, brands can be prepared to welcome an abundance of keen spenders while ensuring the shopping experience is still a positive one for all concerned.

Rebecca Fennell is marketing manager of Tensator