Retail’s New Holiday Challenge: Keeping Shoppers Safe

Paris was on edge last month as the “gilets jaunes,” or “yellow vests,” took to the streets to protest and gathered in two of the city’s main retail centers, including Galeries Lafayette.

Dozens of demonstrators entered the department store’s flagship, waving yellow flags and carrying signs. The store was evacuated not long after they made their way up to the third floor. Simultaneously, an estimated 200 gilets jaunes assembled near Les Halles, close to Place du Châtelet.

Meanwhile, for the past several months in Hong Kong, pro-democracy protesters have flooded malls, subway stations and streets. Retail sales have been hit hard, with the city spiraling into a recession. “Our focus has been on the safety of in-store teams and customers, and maintaining the service levels we are known for,” Peter Harris, president of Pedder Group, told FN recently.

Across the United States, many mall owners have tightened security heading into the holidays. Shopper safety, and people’s perception of it, is on everyone’s mind this year, particularly following the mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, this summer.

Galeries Lafayette Yellow Vest Protesters
Yellow vest protesters took over the Galeries Lafayette flagship in Paris in mid-November.
CREDIT: Michel Euler/Shutterstock

A recent survey by the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), polling U.S. adults about security at malls and shopping centers, found that 87% said seeing local police officers made them feel safer. Uniformed security personnel and K9 dog patrols also ranked high.

ICSC spokesperson Stephanie Cegielski said people want and like visible forms of security in public places. “Ultimately, the more safety measures consumers think are in place, the safer they feel,” she noted.

Beyond local police, many hire either private security companies or have dedicated security staff throughout the year, with additional support during the holiday season, Cegielski added. “Every center has a unique plan. They work with law enforcement and tenants to ensure and enforce that plan and its policies.”

Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Protest
A pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong on Nov. 26.
CREDIT: JEROME FAVRE/Shutterstock

For example, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) implemented a program years ago named the Holiday Initiative, which calls for an increased presence at local malls during the busiest shopping season of the year. “This involves extra vehicle and foot patrols at certain properties, as well as increased communication with property operators to help strengthen their safety plan,” said LVMPD Officer John-Andrew Cook. “We also encourage these properties to hire off-duty police officers to patrol specific locations, or even concentrate on individual stores that the management feels are at a higher risk for theft or other crimes.”

Following the mass shooting on Las Vegas Boulevard on October 1, 2017, LVMPD was forced to make changes to the way it handles large gatherings. “With each event, we take a critical look at our operational plan and the venue’s plan as well,” Cook said. “But it is during the holiday season that we shift our focus to the retail stores that attract large crowds.”

The National Retail Federation works hand in hand with the ICSC to put plans in place for retailer and shopper safety, working with all first responders, including law enforcement, firemen, federal agencies, military personnel, whether it be the worst-case scenario of an active shooter or natural disasters, such as floods, hurricanes, power outages or the like.

A Texas State Trooper walks in front of a Walmart sign
A Texas State Trooper outside the Walmart at the Cielo Vista Mall in El Paso, Texas, where a gunman opened fire on Aug. 3, killing 22 people.
CREDIT: Larry Smith/Shutterstock

“Anything you can imagine that can happen in your neighborhood can also happen around the mall and then we have to jump into the fray,” said Robert Moraca, VP of loss prevention at NRF. “If there’s a recovery process where we have to get ourselves — from a business continuity standpoint — ‘back in business,’ we partner with the mall operators, retailers and the ICSC to do that.”

Even the long-standing holiday tradition of Santa in his village at malls is a crowd-control issue each season, but Moraca said there’s a defined standard for this event each year, and most retailers and mall operators abide by these guidelines.

Interestingly, when it comes to the key shopping days, the NRF and ICSC together have encouraged retailers to steer clear of certain terminology such as “door buster sales” because of the obvious connotation. Instead, they encourage retailers to have newer systems in place to avoid large crowds camping out before store hours and rushing the doors to get the best deals.

“There are a number of ways now that retailers and mall operators are working together to make sure those crowds don’t become unruly as we have sometimes seen in the past,” Moraca said, adding that safety measures continue to evolve in an effort to improve everyone’s safety, including those who work in these locations day in and day out. “We’re always working to take a reasonable and proven approach with security and first responders to keep safety at hand and we’ve learned over time how to put good security countermeasures in place to help keep everyone safe.”

With contributions by Jennifer Weil

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