Walmart, theme parks and the culture of violence in public spaces
Written by Robert Niles
I saw this video over the weekend, and it's been bugging me ever since:Tweet
The melee starts at 1:26. Yep, it's a Black Friday video, of people fighting over cheap headphones at a Walmart. You can find plenty to offend you in this video - obviously, the customers, and maybe even the guy who brought his kids along to record the scene.
But what really bothered me was… Walmart. It's bad enough when retailers don't plan for early arrivals crowding the doors when a store opens in the morning. That's not what happened in this video. Walmart set aside a display of merchandise in an already-open store and waited for a crowd to gather around before unveiling it. Predictably, the completely unmanaged crowd tore the display apart, fighting with one another over the merchandise as they did.
I've got to wonder: was this negligence - Walmart's inability to predict what would happen when they unveiled a display of underpriced items in a crowded store? Or was it deliberate - an attempt to incite a crowd, to create a buzz of excitement in its store?
Let's contrast this with another big crowd of eager consumers from earlier this year, one many readers of this site will remember.
The difference between how Walmart treats its customers and Disney treated its guests at the opening of Cars Land couldn't be greater. While Walmart left its customers to fight like animals over its newly-released merchandise, Disney walked its customers through the park to the newly opened Radiator Springs Racers ride, where even more Disney cast members were waiting to escort the crowd through an orderly line.
Whenever I opened an attraction at Walt Disney World, we were to "walk the line" down into the ride - to discourage the type of mob behavior we've seen at places like Walmart. In the days before Fastpass eliminated two queues at Big Thunder Mountain, whenever we opened the second queue we'd note which guest was passing through the turnstiles in the already-opened queue. Then we'd walk people through the empty queue, keeping pace with that guest in the other queue, so that the first party we were walking through the newly-opened queue would arrive at the load platform as the same time as that other guest we'd been watching. No one got to cut ahead. No one rushed the queue. We had to take 10 minutes of a cast member's (i.e. the company's) time to do this, but we took that extra time so that everyone would be treated fairly and the situation would remain safe, calm and orderly for all.
In other words, we treated our customers like human beings - not like a pack of angry dogs.
Of course, Disney's not perfect. I've seen plenty of cast members skimp on walking down a line, doing it for a few moments before letting the crowd rush ahead. Morning rope drops can be frightening when cast members don't try to manage the crowd. But there's a huge difference between a crowd at a rope drop dispersing into a huge theme park and a crowd in a Walmart parking lot trying to cram through narrow doorways. And there's a huge difference between companies that try to create systems to manage crowds and those which don't even bother.
One of my themes on this website is that every time you spend your money, you vote with your dollars for the type of businesses you want. That's why I go out of my way - from Singapore to Santa Claus - trying to find the very best experiences and service in the theme park business. I want to encourage you to spend your money with companies that value you, as well as your business.
Businesses that serve large crowds have a choice in how they address those customers. They can go cheap, skimp on leadership, and leave the crowd to itself, running the risk that people will descend into a culture of violence. Or they can invest in employees, provide leadership through design, and actively promote a culture of civility.
They have their choice, and you have yours. You get to decide which type of businesses we will have. You vote with your dollars. The businesses that get those dollars stay in business, and those don't - won't.
So when you're spending your money this holiday season - or anytime else - think about the ways that companies treat you and other people (customers and employees). I hope that you'll decide to take your money and your business to companies that treat people with the respect that human beings deserve.
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