Black Friday: Take A Lesson From Retailers, HR


November 27, 2009

It’s “Black Friday”.  The day after Thanksgiving and the day that retailers traditionally go from operating in the red to being in the black from a profit standpoint. It is also the day that numerous retailers open at 3:00 am, 4:00 am, or even earlier to allow customers to come in to save on “door buster” items at unheard of prices.

Black Friday Crowd
Black Friday Crowd

This sales strategy has begun to backfire in recent years though as crowds tend to lose control as they enter the store which can cause great harm to employees or fellow customers.  Last year, for example, a security guard at a Walmart store in Long Island, NY was trampled and killed by the crowd as they rushed into the store.  There were many other incidents of fights and shootings associated with the Black Friday sales across the country.

This year, retailers are taking note and have begun planning months in advance for today.  They are talking to experts on crowd control, customer flow in the stores, and staging practice for the employees in order to be better prepared. Walmart specifically kept stores open 24 hours so that it would avoid this type of incident again.  So far, in early reports, all seems to be going well as no reports of deaths have been broadcast.

What lesson can HR take away from this?  Be prepared.

There are too many missed opportunities where HR can be better prepared.  Here are a couple examples that jump to mind:

  • Annual Benefits Enrollment- We know this is coming.  It’s annual.  But, how many companies do a good job of making sure the entire HR department is well versed in the changes and nuances of the benefits plans?  Mine does, does yours?  It is also critical to have people on the ground who are prepared to answer basic benefit enrollment questions, otherwise, the employees “stampede” from a phone call and e-mail standpoint.  HR needs to anticipate the questions, come up with a solid communication plan (both in writing and scripts/training for people to deliver) and dedicate people to be available during annual enrollment to make it run smooth for the employees.
  • Workplace Safety– Some companies do a great job of being prepared for safety issues.  This can include things like evacuation procedures in case of fire or other disasters, earthquake preparedness, workplace violence procedures, keeping unauthorized people out of your workplace, safely using machinery, etc.  This topic should be one that all employees are trained on annually with small “check up” reminders throughout the year.  Is your company on track?  Or, are you waiting for a disaster to strike so you can then figure out a response plan like Walmart had to do in the case of the guard that was killed?  Message here- be proactive.

What are other ways that HR can be more prepared?  Add them to the comments and keep the conversation going.  And, if your company is proactive and doing something great to be prepared, share that to so we can all learn from it.


  • Thanks for the workplace safety reminders. This must be a challenging time for retail HR teams. BTW, I would be curious to know how many HR peeps were in scouting. I know I don’t go anywhere with essential survival tools and I think it is because I was a Brownie and Girl Scout. What about you?

  • This post is really interesting to me, Trish, because of my sole practitioner/small business background. Planning (sometimes called strategy) is critical in that type of environment because what some people think is minor actually can cause big problems in a small business.

    Example: I didn’t have any trouble getting info about benefits – because *I* bought all the benefits and made all of the decisions about why and how. But I had to plan open enrollment very carefully – even down to how many people I could bring off the production floor at one time (answer: 2). I had all of the information ready in 2 languages (English and Spanish) – I even had a mapping service up on the computer so people could choose PCPs based on where they lived. Talk about planning!

    There are so many more examples that you have inspired me to write a blog post of my own. THANKS!

    • @Karla- I was in scouting. You may be onto something here with the idea. Scouting remains a great way to teach children responsibility, how to challenge themselves, how to work as part of a team, and of course, camping skills (planning, physical skills, etc). I’ll have to stew on this idea for a bit…. thanks!

      @Joan- Love that you’re taking the sole practitioner angle on this topic since my experience has all come from large corporate experience. Can’t wait to read your take on it.

  • Trish-Great post, and great advice to “be prepared”. Two areas I’ve touched this year that fit into this discussion are Business Continuity Planning and Workforce Planning.

    BCP came up in late spring with the early round of H1N1. A BCP framework sat on someone’s desk until fall, when the other shoe began to drop. You wouldn’t believe the look on management’s face when you ask them if their business can operate with 40% of their headcount incapacitated. We found that asking the question brought some great ideas out, which are now being recorded into a BCP for future use.

    WP is HR 101, with an obligatory new label assigned in order to make it just a bit more mysterious. If you ask the question: “what are we doing to build the workforce required to succeed 2-3 years from now?”, you’re in the WP (HR 101!) space. Couple of things I’ve learned this year:
    1. Keep asking the question! Do not ask it once and run off to design a bunch of new programs.
    2. Do not allow the result of WP be turned into a Powerpoint presentation. Powerpoint is where good ideas go to die.

    Thanks for bringing a great HR topic to the table for discussion.

    • @Frank- Great points. H1N1 is certainly a topic that needed to be addressed right away and unfortunately, people were slow to react and it had some bad consequences. I love your proactive approach to handling it before it becomes an official “situation”.

  • This is a very good primer, Trish. I especially liked that you called out benefits enrollment and workplace safety as end-of-year topics that can be tackled now so 2009 ends and 2010 gets underway well, for all employees.

    I work for a nonprofit, Winning Workplaces, which studies small companies as part of our top small company workplaces 2010 competition, and, while small, the companies that apply for our recognition each year definitely have “be prepared” down and live by it; I would argue better than many large companies.

  • I think your comment on “check up” reminders during the year with regard to workplace safety protocols etc is well stated.

    It is one thing to be aware of a potential problem and to prepare mentally, but like your serve in tennis or golf swing, learned skills are all perishable

    The best retention is through reminders and refreshers but particularly with table top exercises and scenario based training

    This is where “muscle memory” is developed and readiness is sharpened. In stressful situations people will not be able to think clearly but those with some dedicated skill sets tend to react more favorably when there really is no time to think, such as in a crowd stampede at the door or an earthquake etc

    Just my two cents 🙂

Comments are closed.

Black Friday Crowd
Black Friday Crowd
Screen Shot 2019-12-01 at 17.20.39

About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


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