A Christmas miracle on Black Friday

New York -- The retail industry experienced a weekend that was a roaring success in terms of customer traffic, sales and another key metric that was overlooked: No one died! At least not in the gruesome fashion of a few years ago when a Walmart employee was trampled by an unruly mob as he opened the doors at a Long Island, NY, store on Black Friday. There was an incident this year involving an older man who collapsed at a Target store in West Virginia and later died at a hospital, but it was determined he had a pre-existing heart condition.

The retail industry has come a long way in terms of Black Friday crowd control, which is a good thing considering the mass of humanity that now turns out to shop the day after Thanksgiving. The National Retail Federation put the figure at 86 million people this year, which is a staggering number of people and increases the potential for things to go wrong based simply on the law of averages. The situation is further magnified by variables that add to the frustration factor, such as crowded parking lots, unusual operating hours and long lines for limited quantities of the best deals. It’s why the retail industry should feel pretty good that there weren’t more incidents like the one involving the man at the West Virginia Target or other high-profile incidents -- such as the one involving the woman who used pepper spray to disperse a crowd of fellow shoppers at Walmart so as to gain unfettered access to promotional merchandise.

This isn’t to suggest retailers don’t have room to improve crowd-control measures, and especially the distribution of feature merchandise that typically causes people to lose control and behave like a pack of starving hyenas separating the last shreds of meat from a carcass. This type of behavior has to be seen or experienced first-hand to be believed and for that we have YouTube. It is filled with videos taken by people chronicling their Black Friday adventures, which for some reason often seem to involve Walmart. While the videos of boisterous, agitated crowds clamoring for merchandise is unsettling and evokes a gut reaction along the lines of, “what’s wrong with people?” it is important to remember that the circumstances which lead to the mob mentality is of the retailers’ doing. Marketing efforts to drive early-season sales are filled with urgency along the lines of, “grab these deals before they are gone,” “our lowest prices ever,” and “savings that won’t last.”

The desire to grab discounted merchandise and the large crowds creates a kind of competitiveness that is unsettling to watch on YouTube and scary to be part of. Large stores crammed full of people are like powder kegs that can easily be ignited when one person becomes overly zealous in their pursuit of merchandise. The retail industry can be thankful that wasn’t the case this year, given the massive turnout.