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As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, people across the United States prepare intricate meals and finalize their travel plans. But for many, Thanksgiving is less about giving thanks and more about getting a headstart on shopping for themselves and their loved ones. Undoubtedly the busiest shopping day of the year, Black Friday has gone from a single day of low-priced items to an entire weekend of deals, often testing the limits of even the largest and most prepared of companies.
With Security in Mind
As Black Friday continues to expand, retailers are seeking more advanced ways to mitigate the chaos that can unfold. By scattering “hot ticket” items throughout the store and staggering the times they go on sale, companies are making great strides to protect both customers, employees and property. Despite these efforts, risks remain as tensions run high. In 2017 alone, there were two shootings at retail locations on Black Friday, one in Texas and another in Missouri that left two people seriously injured.
For retail corporate security teams, the task of protecting the estimated 164 million Americans that plan on shopping over the Thanksgiving weekend can be daunting, and for those who work for retailers with thousands of locations nationwide, that difficulty is compounded. The most advanced retail corporate security teams have incorporated publicly available information, like social media data, into their operations because it often provides the fastest way to gain insight into events as they unfold. This proved to be the case last year when, as a brawl unfolded inside of an Alabama shopping center, bystanders documented the entire incident on social media long before the story was picked up by news outlets.
Safety is far from the only concern during the Black Friday frenzy. Many locations have more than 800 people lining up outside, and the volume of patrons make shrinkage a significant threat. In fact, reports find that the holiday season is responsible for 37 percent of a retailer’s annual shrink loss. Should an event occur nearby, it is essential that corporate security teams informed quickly so they can take action to ensure that inventory remains accounted for.
A Reputation on the Line
However, not all issues that can arise during Black Friday center around safety or property loss. This became apparent when, in 2017, Lowe’s was unable to process orders online and customers immediately took to Twitter to vent their frustrations. One user reached out to the retailer directly, saying "@Lowes My cart was full and now the website is down!" Though the website was down for only twenty minutes, time impacts sales. During the busiest hours of Black Friday, consumers spend roughly $1 million per minute, meaning even short outages can result in substantial losses.
Aside from lost revenue, companies also face a risk to their brand’s reputation. Last year, Macy’s famously had an issue processing credit cards both on the web and at their brick and mortar locations nationwide. Customers quickly began voicing their grievances online, with many posting about the amount of merchandise they were leaving behind due to the long lines and confusion that resulted. Macy’s official response – that the issue was due to “scheduled maintenance” – only served to further inflame tensions and led to negative press throughout the media.
Similarly, JCPenney also faced backlash when, in 2017, they changed their coupon policy during Black Friday. Customers complained on social media when their coupons, which were stated to expire after the holiday, were not honored at registers inside JCPenney locations. The grievances aired online resulted in avoidable negative headlines for the company.
Conversely, Ikea serves as an example of how a retailer can get ahead of an issue before it becomes widespread. Last year, when U.S. customers began posting about how they were being directed to the Canadian webstore, Ikea took action and proactively informed their customers of the problem and posted a link to their U.S. webstore, allowing people complete their purchases. This is an example of how fast communication and a centralized message ensures that a small instance in a remote location does not become a brand-level issue.
The key to mitigating increased risks on Black Friday is real-time data. As an event unfolds, retailers need updates and insight as it happens. Waiting for traditional media outlets can take hours, time that could be spent taking action to protect customers, employees, stores, and the company’s bottom line. A solution like Dataminr that provides real-time alerts derived from publicly-available information helps companies stay abreast of any and all issues, be it a security or brand risk. After all, with so much of the Black Friday experience existing online, it is essential that retailers incorporate it into their strategy as well.