Black Friday ads: Can deals serve as crowd control?

Black Friday ads for deals are being used by some retailers to control crowds and maximize shopper safety. The most effective Black Friday ads to manage in-store crowds may be to offer the same deals online. 

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    Black Friday shoppers pour into the Valley River Center mall for the Midnight Madness sale, in Eugene, Ore. last year. Black Friday ads are being used by some retailers to make the Black Friday crowds more manageable.
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We've all heard the Black Friday horror stories about out of control crowds. But is it really dangerous to head to the store on Black Friday? What steps are retailers taking to protect customers and employees during the shopping holiday? Read on to see how merchants will try to maximize safety — and profits — during the Black Friday season.

Black Friday Crowd Control Remains a Priority

Our recent survey revealed that more than half of our readers plan to shop online during Black Friday. This finding was backed up by a recent Nielson study, in which 46% of respondents said they'd do their Black Friday shopping online. All of this could add up to smaller crowds on shopping's biggest holiday.

Yet, despite these findings, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released a document urging retailers to put safety first on Black Friday. Citing the trampling death of a Walmart worker during a Black Friday sale five years ago, the press release implores merchants to enforce crowd safety measures like providing "on-site trained security personnel or police officers," "not allowing additional customers to enter the store when it reaches its maximum occupancy level," and "not blocking or locking exit doors."

OSHA revises and sends out its crowd control tips on an annual basis in an effort to protect retail workers, who are the most likely to be injured by rushing crowds. "The busy shopping season should not put retail workers at risk of being injured or killed," said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health.

Retailers Have Other Safety Tricks Up Their Sleeves

Implementing OSHA's crowd control measures is just one way retailers can prevent Black Friday mob madness. The pursuit of higher profits could actually lead to a safer Black Friday in some cases, as merchants implement more subtle forms of crowd control in the name of bigger sales.

One overt way retailers are making making stores safer in the name of profits is by staggering Black Friday sales, so that the prices for select items only drop during a specific period of time. "At Walmart, for example, certain deals begin at 6 pm on Thanksgiving and then roll out throughout Black Friday," read an article for Market Watch. "Best Buy is doing something similar, with some deals rolling out at 6 pm on Thanksgiving and more on Black Friday ... the goal is to manage store traffic so aisles aren't clogged; for consumers, that could mean smaller crowds at any given time."

Another subtle safety measure is matching in-store prices online. "People are going to shop the way they want to shop," Dan Toporek, Vice President of Corporate Communications for Walmart E-Commerce told ABC News. Toporek said Walmart "has about five million products on its website, compared with about two million last year, while about 99% of the items are eligible for free shipping." Putting more Black Friday bargains online still causes customers to spend their money at Walmart, with the added safety benefit of sending fewer patrons to the store.

In the name of competition, Best Buy is also incentivizing brick-and-mortar consumers to visit its website during Black Friday. "Best Buy is offering free shipping for online orders over $25 and promising a 'significantly improved' experience for online shoppers after investing to make its website easier to navigate," reads aChicago Tribune article.

Walmart is practicing another subtle form of crowd control with its "1-hour guarantee" on 21 doorbusters. Thus far the only retailer to try this tactic, Walmart is promising that customers who arrive during specified hours will receive the doorbuster they came for at its Black Friday price, even if the store runs out of stock. Since so many Black Friday riots tend to center around low-stock, low-price doorbusters, Walmart's guarantee could take the pressure off of deal-seeking crowds.

Readers, are your Black Friday fears assuaged? Or will you stay home and prepare for the worst anyway? Share your best/worst Black Friday horror stories in the comments below! Also, don't forget to stop by our Black Friday deals page for all the retailers' ads, as well as the latest news, analyses, and predictions.

Marcy Bonebright is a features writer at, where this article first appeared:

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