Managing Crowds at Your Retail Store

Getting shoppers to your store is the goal of any brick-and-mortar retail business, but managing the crowds who line up for the release of the next hot product or the year’s biggest sale is just as important as attracting them in the first place.

Planning ahead for how to control and manage large crowds can help ensure that every customer’s shopping experience – and every employee’s shift – is a safe and pleasant one. Follow these guidelines to keep crowds in order, from the parking lot all the way to the cash register:

Plan Ahead

  • Identify a coordinator to develop the crowd management plan and oversee its implementation during events.
  • Anticipate the size of the crowd and provide enough staff and contract personnel to direct and manage the crowd, both inside and outside the store.
  • Develop a contingency plan in the event the crowd size exceeds expectations.
  • Ensure that security personnel are in place prior to opening and that they are present during the entire event.
  • Contact the landlord, adjacent business owners, and local law enforcement to inform them of the event and the crowd management plan.
  • Restrict the number of patrons allowed in the store at one time by handing out numbers or allowing only a certain number inside.
  • Hand out a limited number of vouchers for specific door-buster specials close to opening time on a first-come, first-served basis.

Prepare Employees

  • Train employees to handle crowd movement under both normal and emergency situations.
  • Develop policies to handle accident victims, altercations, and other incidents and emergencies.
  • Train employees in emergency evacuation procedures.

Designate Crowd Controllers

  • Ensure that those selected can clearly communicate in a language understood by the crowd, and consider bilingual crowd controllers as needed.
  • Assign each crowd controller a work area/location during the event.
  • Instruct crowd controllers in what, how, and when to communicate to patrons.
  • Alert crowd controllers to behaviors that might trigger dangerous crowd behaviors.
  • Remind crowd controllers to maintain a professional demeanor despite the actions of the crowd.

Stage the Store

  • Use stanchions or barricades placed several hours prior to the start of the event to encourage the crowd to form lines.
  • Have patrons stand in a line versus a large mass with no defined boundaries, and position the start of the line no closer than 10 feet from the entrance.
  • Post signs informing patrons of rules (sale start time, when they can start queuing outside the entrance, entering procedures, etc.), and include this information in sale advertisements.
  • Use bullhorns to communicate with patrons prior to their entering the store, and use the internal public address system once they are inside.
  • Refrain from providing refreshments or entertainment, or allowing other organizations to do so, as this may encourage patrons to camp out.
  • Use video and audio monitoring at entrances and throughout the store for incident investigation.
  • Ensure all life safety mechanisms are in place, including working emergency lights, unblocked and unlocked emergency exits, and emergency communication devices.

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The illustrations, instructions, and principles in this material are general in scope and, to the best of our knowledge, current at the time of publication. No attempt has been made to interpret any referenced codes, standards, or regulations nor to identify all potential risks or requirements.