« WSAU Opinion Blog

OPINION - Full contact shopping

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU)  I’ve written before against full-contact shopping, which seems to be getting worse. There are hundreds of reports of pushing and shoving as customers jockey for scarce, discounted merchandise.

So, this year I have a few questions:

What’s the protocol when two shoppers both reach for the same item? Hypothetically, they both have their hands on the last $99 flat screen TV. Does the item go to the one who pulls the hardest?

Will there be push-back from police departments? Crowd control is more-and-more beyond the capabilities of in-store private security. If police are routinely called because of unruly shoppers, might some ambitious city council get involved? How far away are we from local ordinances that regulate what times big-box stores can open, and what times people can begin camping out for bargains?

What’s the protocol when shoppers get into a fight? Stores already have procedures if someone gets injured on their property. (It usually involves getting them to sign a release-of-liability in exchange for cash or merchandise discounts.) If I was assaulted while shopping, I’d sue. And I wouldn’t sue the hot-head who threw a punch at me. I’d sue the store. They are responsible for the security and safety of their customers. There’s no way I’d be bought off with a gift card and a smile.

Remember, when you see shoppers waiting in the cold, rushing the door, sprinting into the store to get the deal – that’s a situation created by the retailer. Having hundreds of people cue up for hours before a store opens, it creates a psychology of anticipation and anxiousness. When discounted items are in clear shrink-wrapped pallets, the store is trying to create a sense of immediacy and scarcity. Creating an in-store frenzy is a psychological ploy; people buy more in that kind of environment.

Big retailers are psych experts. Every part of a store is laid out based on research, from store colors to shelf placement, to the width of the isles, the music they play on the PA system. Customers are tracked and monitored from the moment they enter the store to the moment they leave – all in the name of learning about consumer behavior. How fast do we walk through the store? How long do we stay? What impact does a coupon have? What types of in-store displays make us stop and look? If we buy item A, what other items are we likely to buy?  Stores research all of those points, and they know the answers. It’s illogical to think that they also don’t know everything about Black Friday behavior. The madhouse in their stores is artificial and intentional. And on those grounds, when something goes wrong – a fight, a shoving match, a knock-down… sue ‘em. They’ve created an unsafe situation, and should pay a price for it.

Chris Conley