While the popularity of online shopping might make you envision the physical retail environment as a wasteland of boarded up stores, as of this year (2018) 40% of shoppers still make the trek to a brick and mortar store at least once a week, compared to 27% of online shoppers buying with the same frequency. There are still people out there who seek the instant gratification of paying for and receiving an item immediately, as well as being able to inspect it before purchasing. Plus, it’s always nice to support local business. So don’t count retail out yet!
Any retail space is going to require a well thought out crowd control plan to facilitate the most efficient people flow in your queue as possible. You don’t want people to get bottle-necked or stuck, or crowded into an unsafe situation, or frustrated to the point they leave your store. This applies not only to special sale days when you anticipate heavier traffic, but also to day-to-day operations. You don’t want your shoppers to feel like cattle. In all aspects of the shopping experience, from exploring your store to waiting in line or queue at checkout, keeping everything flowing smoothly makes the experience better for your customer, which in turn makes them more likely to purchase (and more importantly, return in the future to make more purchases). Everybody wins!
INS AND OUTS
MAKE SURE “IN” AND “OUT” DOORS ARE CLEARLY MARKED, TO KEEP FROM CLUMPING AND BOTTLE-NECKING.
Nobody wants to shop somewhere if the environment isn’t pleasing. This is where proper customer flow in retail stores comes into play. You need to ensure that your store is easy to get in and get out of, and also easy to navigate once shoppers are inside. Organization is key. Barriers like retractable belt stanchions can be set up to keep traffic moving in an orderly fashion in the directions you want, particularly at entrances and exits, and anywhere people are expected to line up. Or get fancy and use ropes to cordon off areas. It also helps to make sure “In” and “Out” doors are clearly marked, to keep from clumping and bottle-necking with people trying to leave and come in at the same time.
PEOPLE DON’T ENJOY WAITING, AND TOO MUCH OF A BACKUP CAN CAUSE A SHOPPER TO GIVE UP.
One of the hot spots for a potential customer to give up out of frustration is the checkout line. As retail guru Paco Underhill expresses in his book “Why We Buy”, you want your customers in your store as long as possible – not counting waiting in line. When you’re so close to a sale, the last thing you want is to have it fall apart at the final juncture. People don’t enjoy waiting, and too much of a backup can cause a shopper to give up. While many larger retailers operate several checkout lines, studies have shown that one of the quickest solutions is a single-line, multiple service system. In this layout, a single queue feeds into multiple point-of-sale registers, with those at the front of the line going to the next available cashier. An electronic queue management system can be a huge help in alleviating confusion in this set up. Retractable belt barriers or classic metal post and rope stanchions are good ways to delineate checkout lines, and adding proper signage that directs people where to enter and exit will help make the system foolproof. You can also add elements that will make the waiting-in-line process a bit more interesting for the consumer.
THE MAIN EVENT
In addition to managing the general flow of customer traffic in your retail space, you’ll need to make extra preparations for big shopping days. Halloween, Back-to-School, Black Friday, the Holiday Season…all of these times of year lead to more shoppers, and retailers need to respond by making sure measures are in place to accommodate the increase in traffic. The same is true if your store is running a particularly big promotion or event and you expect more people than normal to attend.
KEEP IN MIND THAT MORE CROWDS MEAN MORE EVERYTHING: MORE STAFF, MORE SIGNAGE, MORE FACILITIES, AND MORE NOISE.
Think about the arrangement of your store as well. If you expect a sizable crowd, consider setting up some barricades or a stanchion barrier to create a line that leads to your store’s entrance, so you can maintain an orderly entrance-way and, if needed, determine how many people will be allowed to enter at a time so your retail space won’t be over its maximum capacity. Inside the store, space out promotional or sale items, so shoppers won’t all cluster in a single area and cause a blockage. Consider setting up merchandising grid panels at specified locations that are far enough apart from each other that it won’t cause congestion.
Keep in mind that more crowds mean more everything: more staff (as we previously mentioned), but also more signage to keep your customers informed, more facilities (ie. restrooms or wash areas), and more noise as well, so make sure your staff is able to effectively communicate, both with each other and with large groups of customers. Walkie talkies and bullhorns are good things to have for this purpose.
STATE OF EMERGENCY
Beyond your normal measures, and extra prep for increased traffic, there’s one more important area to address in the world of retail crowd control: emergency situations. You’ll need to have procedures and policies in place just in case an unforeseen wrench gets thrown into your plans and you suddenly find yourself and your retail space in a crisis situation. In a crowded space, unruly customers can end up causing injury to others through trampling, shoving or smothering. You also want to make sure that if any isolated customer suffers from a medical emergency, someone is able to clear a path, give them room, and allow medical responders to easily access the area.
BE PREPARED TO CLEARLY MARK AND SECTION OFF ANY HAZARDOUS AREA. THE MORE VISIBLE YOUR WARNING MARKERS ARE, THE BETTER.
So have an emergency contingency plan in place. Know the proper numbers to call for law enforcement or medical services if needed. Make sure exits are not blocked, and have a clear evacuation route lined up in the event that a crowd needs to disperse quickly. Make sure you have access to adequate first aid kits and Automated External Defibrillators, and make sure your employees are trained in using AED and CPR in the event of a medical emergency.
Additionally, you’ll need to have a way to section off areas if they become dangerous due to a spill, broken glass, or some other hazard. In crowded areas, accidents happen, so be prepared to clearly mark and section off any hazardous area. A warning sign or cone will alert shoppers of danger, and you can cordon off an area entirely with a retractable belt stanchion or a plastic post. In such cases, the more visible your warning markers are, the better. A yellow stanchion post, possibly with some warning text to alert customers, makes for a good solution that’s easily seen and thus difficult to miss. Or you could go all out with an alternating yellow and black chevron stanchion post for a more striking post design that’s sure to catch eyes.
Now you’re ready to approach your next crowded retail event with the proper planning and preparedness.