Boxing Day Bedlam: how to control shopping centre crowds

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Hamish Forbes, assistant in the real estate team at national law firm Dundas & Wilson, advises retailers on crowd control in the holiday shopping season

Forbes: crowd control advice for retailers

Forbes: crowd control advice for retailers

The post-Christmas sales rush sees thousands of bargain hunters hit the shops. From a commercial standpoint, this can only be positive. However, excessive crowds may result in an overall negative shopping experience for the customer; not to mention potential safety risks and damage to property. From protesters occupying mobile phone shops to shoppers resorting to violence to bag the best bargains (it has been reported pepper spray was even used in a Los Angeles Wal-Mart store), the media coverage has been extensive.

Taking a few simple steps and having a strategy in place can make all the difference in preventing damage to property, business and reputation.

• What are the potential impact of crowds, demonstrations and protests?

Repercussions may include damage to property, adverse publicity, loss of revenue, increase in future insurance premiums, possible litigation and compensation payments. Demonstrations may discourage shoppers, which can be highly damaging when many centres are already struggling financially

• What legal rights do landlords have to control Christmas crowds and/or protestors?

Shopping centres are private property; however, landlords must comply with law and relevant legislation. Most importantly, landlords must not use force. The police should be informed and legal advice sought, if necessary. Landlords have a legal duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of the employees and ensure tenants retain their right to quiet enjoyment during their tenancy

• How can owners and retailers respond to peaceful protests/crowds?

Preparation: Be prepared. Draw up emergency plans for potential dangers including protests or overcrowding. Share this with all local safety agencies. Set up barricades for crowd management in advance of customers/protesters arriving

Training/personnel: have an appropriate number of people on the ground to reduce queues and provide effective supervision. Provide clear roles and responsibilities. Ensure effective team work

Communication: have good communication avenues in place. Liaise with outside organisations such as police and emergency services and discuss protocol. Nominate someone to act as contact in the event of a protest. Regularly scan the internet for potential threats

Health and safety: put a health and safety management system in place. Carry out risk assessments and limit customer numbers

Approach: do not overreact or be heavy handed. It can result in negative PR

Spread the load: encourage tenants to launch discounts prior to Christmas to ease the post Christmas rush

Service providers: Put contracts in place with security, cleaning and other service providers, passing on the responsibility of these areas

• Who holds legal responsibility for any damages that may be caused?

Shopping centres are private property so the police should be contacted

Check:

(i) insurance provisions;

(ii) service charge provisions in the lease documentation. Do they (for example) include the provision of security; and

(iii) service contracts in place

(iv) is it worth pursuing a claim against the responsible party?

• What should owners and retailers do post-protest/incident (eg dealing with lawsuits, etc)?

Keep a record of how the protest was handled. CCTV can specify how many people were there as well as acting as a tool for deterring, identifying and prosecuting offenders. Post-completion assessment can identify what could have been done better or differently. Conclusion Demonstrations cannot always be stopped although steps can be taken to deal with them in the best possible manner. Landlords need to be prepared in case they too become subject to a protest / campaign. Shopping centres and retailers across the country will brace themselves for frantic scenes, increased trading and lengthy queues this Christmas. By ensuring they are well prepared to face these challenges, there is no need to panic.