Saturday, November 29, 2008

shop til you drop


I was dismayed to hear of the trampling death of a Wal-Mart employee on Long Island yesterday. He apparently got in the way of some overzealous shoppers and saw his life end for the sake of cheap electronics. News reports today say that officials are scouring security tape and looking for the perpetrators—the shoppers who physically ran him over. But really, they should go after Wal-Mart for not providing a safe, secure shopping environment.

Wal-Mart is well known for not giving a crap about its customers—nor its employees. Despite the feel-good rah rah cheer their employees do every day, Wal-Mart is one of the worst companies around as far as giving its workers fair benefits and fair wages. And the chain is notorious for being a dangerous place to shop because they refuse to offer any real parking lot security. (If you don't believe me, just google "Wal-Mart parking lot deaths"...or check out the documentary Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price.)

That there are often mobs of people outside chain stores on Black Friday is nothing new. And with the current economic crisis playing right into Wal-Mart's business strategy, the company should have anticipated the masses and beefed up security accordingly. In particular, they should have provided structure—lines, crowd organizers—to the throngs of shoppers that were accumulating outside. Similar security planning is provided all the time: waiting for concert tickets, lining up for the first viewing of a new blockbuster movie, etc. When I went to see The Dark Night earlier this year on its first full day, the hullabaloo was pretty intense...it was the busiest I've ever seen a movie theater. And yet the theater had impeccable crowd control, and no one ever felt unsafe.

It'll be interesting to see if the family of the deceased decides to sue Wal-Mart. I'm no lawyer, but for my money, that's where the fault lies. Of course, if the family does so, it will be hit by the might of the Wal-Mart legal team, which would promise a nasty fight. Regardless, I'm just wondering how long it'll be before this becomes a Law & Order episode. I give it six months.

Update: The family indeed took took Wal-mart to court, but the big-box giant settled with the local DA, which allowed them to avoid criminal charges.

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