The specter of terrorism has retailers and mall operators on high alert.
The Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 130 and injured more than 350 continue to reverberate around the world, even as new ISIS threats surface, leaving the public and law enforcement agencies jittery just days before the busy Thanksgiving and Black Friday shopping season in the U.S. and Christmas shopping period in Europe.
There are increased presences of machine-gun toting police and military personnel throughout major cities in the U.S. and Europe. In Paris, the army planned to send 1,500 more troops to patrol the city on Saturday, for the weekend marking the kickoff of the holiday shopping season. The reinforcement comes on top of the additional 1,000 troops sent on Nov. 16.
Brussels was under a security lockdown over the weekend that left parts of the city desolate. The historic city center was closed off as helicopters hovered overhead. The Belgian government said Friday that it had received credible threats about possible attacks. A manhunt for one of the alleged terrorists in the Paris attacks that began last week was continuing on Sunday and there were reports that the lockdown in Brussels could move into Monday.
The attack in Mali on Friday that left 27 dead stirred further fear, even though no group immediately claimed responsibility. Earlier in the week, ISIS cited popular tourist attractions in Europe as possible targets. This prompted the U.S. State Department on Thursday to issue a travel warning to American citizens in Italy, saying that sights such as St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, The Duomo in Milan and La Scala opera house were identified as potential targets.
The U.S. government on Thursday also warned that churches, restaurants, theaters and hotels in Rome and Milan could be possible targets. While the Italian government said there was no concrete evidence of any specific attacks, the security alert level was raised to two, the highest level in the absence of a direct attack.
In France, the mood remained understandably somber as the nation recovered from the deadly attacks and police and military raids on terrorist suspects continued throughout last week. Retailers are ramping up security further, with Le Bon Marché doubling its security staff, and adding sniffer dogs.
Foot traffic at Paris’ main department stores dropped significantly following the Nov. 13 attacks. While sales slid 30 percent at Printemps, Galeries Lafayette’s plummeted 50 percent, a spokeswoman confirmed. Both venues have beefed up security measures to assure customers. Galeries Lafayette, which also runs BHV Marais, is providing psychological counseling for its employees.
Paris’ Les Quatre Temps’ shopping center, which according to some media reports has been named as a possible target, has put an “antiterrorist plan” in place, according to a spokeswoman for Unibail-Rodamco, its owner. “We have increased surveillance of strategic places in the centers. We have also implemented visible security checks. The police authorities have also provided us with extra security,” she said. “We are in very close contact and collaboration with the police authorities and [are basing] our decisions on their recommendations and directions.”
London has been on heightened alert since the Paris attacks and had several bomb scares last week. Busy shopping streets such as Regent Street, Oxford Circus and Sloane Street, as well as malls, were identified as possible target areas. Others include Winter Wonderland, the annual holiday-themed fun fair in Hyde Park, and the 02 Arena, in East London, a popular venue for sporting and musical events.
Regent Street on Wednesday was closed down after police were alerted to a suspicious object near Hamley’s toy store. Eyewitnesses said the street was cordoned off and shoppers at both Hamley’s and other nearby stores such as J. Crew and Brooks Brothers were told to stay inside. The following day, Baker Street Underground Station was evacuated and the area was cordoned off following alerts about a suspicious vehicle that was left unattended outside the station.
London’s Metropolitan Police declined to discuss the specifics.
“As part of the government’s Crowded Places program, specialist Counter Terrorism Security Advisors located across the U.K. also work with organizations that own commercial sites such as shopping centers, sports stadiums, hotels and cinemas, to give owners advice on security arrangements that will protect their buildings, staff and the public from the threat of terrorism,” the police said.
New York also received threats last week. A recently surfaced ISIS propaganda video shows scenes of a Gap in Herald Square and Times Square in Manhattan, as well as suicide bombers. NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton and Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday took to television to allay fears and address concerns about shopper safety during the holiday season.
“This year the concern will certainly be very specific, around the usual crowd management, but very specific on the increased terror concerns around the world,” Bratton said. “No city is better prepared to protect against terrorist attacks. The NYPD will protect you. We will not be intimidated and we will not live in fear.”
“Obviously when things like this arise anywhere in the world, there’s always implications for the city,” Deputy Commissioner Stephen Davis told WWD. “This is a little bit more of a concern. As a practical matter, we’re on high alert all the time. Does this give us more reason to heighten security? That comes with the holiday season. We’ll have a more visible presence. We’re also upping our intelligence with other law enforcement agencies.”
Davis said the NYPD is rolling out a new unit of uniformed officers trained to respond to critical incidents and to supplement police patrols. Members of the unit have access to heavy weapons “should they need to go into that mode.”
Another unit, made up of more than 500 uniformed officers, will deployed to high-profile locations such as the U.N., Grand Central Terminal, Rockefeller Center and Columbus Circle. “This holiday, more than any other, there will be a noticeable uniformed presence at key shopping hubs, which are the equivalent of a mall — Fifth Avenue, Herald Square and Bloomingdale’s,” said Davis, noting that the city has 35,000 uniformed police officers.
Malls are considered soft targets because they’re easily penetrable. Stephen Ward, vice president, U.S. East Coast and EMEA at Pinkerton, a risk management and security firm, said the demographics of terrorists are changing, making it more difficult for authorities to identify them. “They may not be of Muslim ethnicity,” he said. “There are female suicide bombers, which is unusual. Al-Qaeda was high tech, but it’s gone low tech. It’s smaller organizations.”
Ward said Pinkerton is hired by some centers to develop security plans, which include physical penetration tests where undercover personnel try to penetrate the mall’s security systems.
“It comes down to geography. Sleepy backwaters that have a nice [small] mall may not need high security, but a Mall at Short Hills [in Short Hills, N.J.] and Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City, N.Y., will also have a police presence in addition to mall security,” Ward said, referring to the latter’s proximity to Manhattan.
Ward said businesses must review and revise their security programs because the top 10 threats a decade ago are different today. “Since 9/11, the FBI says that upward of 56 attacks have been thwarted,” Ward said, adding, “That’s what they tell you and that’s just the FBI.”
“There are all these open spaces that you cannot protect all the time,” said Robert Moraca, MBA, CPP, CFE and vice president of loss prevention at the National Retail Federation, referring to shopping centers. “We know we’re vulnerable, so we put onion skin layers of security on where we can.”
In today’s climate, an active shooter plan is a necessity for shopping centers. “They’re actually naming cities such as Washington, D.C.,” Moraca said, referring to ISIS. “Since 9/11 and this entire chapter started, the NRF helped Homeland Security create the standards.
“Right now, we have robust plans in place,” Moraca said. “Today, we’re redoubling our efforts. We’ll add more loss prevention personnel. In stressful situations, where we feel we could be targeted, we hire off-duty police officers and have an armed presence in the facility. We ratchet it up and down. We teach mall employees how to do counter surveillance, to be alert to a customer who comes into the store and doesn’t buy anything. We learn from the military and apply it.”
Shoppers in France have been accustomed to bag searches and metal-detecting wands since the January terror attacks on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, when some retailers heightened security under the Vigipirate protocols France has used since the late Seventies.
Customers have been complying with the measures, said a spokeswoman for Unibail-Rodamco. “We have received positive feedback from our customers on our increased security measures,” she said.
At the Denim PV trade show at the Montjuïc exhibition center in Barcelona on Thursday and Friday, additional security officers were dispatched at the entrance to check bags and within the fair, while police officers patrolled outside the show.
American shoppers may find security checks a bitter pill to swallow.
Asked whether shopping centers are considering installing metal detectors for safety, Moraca said, “I don’t know of any retailers or malls that have gone to that level yet. I don’t think that’s a consideration at this time. Malls have so many exits, it’s very difficult to control them. As a society, I don’t think we’re there yet. In London, I saw more bobbies [officers] with armored jackets and machine guns. Worldwide, we’re seeing an increase in response to what’s going on. We saw a nation lose its innocence. They [the French] lived in a nostalgic kind of cloud.”
Shopping centers consider security a cost center and some pass the costs to tenants as part of CAM fees, which all tenants are charged for upkeep of common areas.
Adrian Nelson, group leasing and client management director at McArthurGlen Group, which operates luxury designer outlet centers in Europe, said it had not increased security measures.
“We were already very secure. The only difference is it gets discussed more at the board level and there is more awareness of it,” he said. “It’s probably a bit easier because our centers are [destinations]. We control our car parks. We have more control over the environment than you would do if you were in a conventional town center,” he added.
American shopping centers said they’re acutely aware of security following the Paris terrorist massacre.
Westfield U.S. officials said: “Security measures during the holiday period typically reflect increased visitation and given recent events, like most other organizations, we are operating under a heightened state of awareness. While the company does not publicly discuss deployments, levels or methods, significant resources continue to be devoted to security arrangements and we continue to coordinate activities with local, regional and national law enforcement and security officials.”
“We regularly keep in touch with Homeland Security,” said David Contis, president of Simon Malls. “To date they’ve told us there’s no planned attacks against any targets in the U.S. We’re even more vigilant at times like this. We adjust coverage during the year based on traffic. We look at properties and customize as appropriate. We have an emergency tactical plan and do active shooter drills. We’re doing a series of things to harden the targets.”
“The safety and well-being of our shoppers, retailers and employees are always our top priorities, not just when events/tragedies like the Paris incident occur,” said Sandeep Mathrani, chief executive officer of General Growth Properties. “Each GGP mall has a customized public safety program that entails different measures for various scenarios. Some of the measures are visible to our shoppers, like our trained security team, relationships with local law enforcement and ongoing training. Other measures are not as visible. We also encourage people, whenever they are in any public place with large numbers of people, to remember general public safety tips, in particular, Homeland Security’s message of “see something, say something.” We do not discuss our public safety measures because doing so would compromise our efforts, but I want to emphasize, safety and security are our priorities every day.”
The South Coast Plaza mega mall in Costa Mesa, Calif., has a new system that streams live video from the shopping mall directly into city police cars. Police have access to surveillance cameras in the malls so they can quickly track suspected criminals, or see suspicious activity, as reported in the Orange Country Register.
“The safety of our customers, employees and retailers is a top priority for us every day,” said Debra Gunn Downing, spokeswoman. “Since 9/11, we have had and continue to have significant security measures in place that we diligently update. We work closely and proactively with the law enforcement community to monitor and evaluate intelligence information.”
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said it works with experts to ensure the safety of customers and creates store-specific safety plans for shopping events such as Black Friday, including crowd management.
“Macy’s works closely with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies each year to put in place comprehensive security plans for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Our interagency partners lead security efforts along all areas of the parade route. As with any public event in New York City, security elements are extensive — from the very visible presence of law enforcement officers to wide-ranging behind-the-scenes security operations. The safety of our participants and spectators is the top priority for us and our agency partners,” Macy’s said.
A preview of what that might look like could seen on Friday evening when Macy’s unveiled its holiday windows and the NYPD was out in force, including members of the specially trained Hercules unit of heavily armed Special Forces-like officers.
“We take it all very seriously and are trying to do everything we can to ensure the enjoyment and safety of shoppers and employees,” said Tony Spring, chairman and ceo of Bloomingdale’s. “I’m sure [the news] put a damper on things for some people. After having to watch the news 24/7, people need a little therapy. The world is so serious and our business is not so serious. Our role is to help people forget. That said, our security team in the store stays very engaged with the local precinct and NYPD.”
While there have been reports that Berlin’s department stores and malls will be stepping up security measures, retailers were unavailable or unwilling to comment. Nor is there evidence of an increased security presence at KaDeWe and Karstadt, Galeries Lafayette, the Mall of Berlin off Potsdamer Platz, Galeria Kaufhof, Primark and the Alexa shopping center on Alexanderplatz. Most stores as usual had an unarmed security man posted at the main doors.
While German chancellor Angela Merkel made an appearance at the German Handelskongress Retail 2015, which was held in Berlin Wednesday and Thursday, the topic of security didn’t seem to have come up. A spokesman for ECE, one of Germany’s largest shopping center operators said, “We’re in close contact with the public security institutions and have implemented measures for prevention. All our center employees are briefed.”
The French are learning they must be sensitive to any nuance that could put off customers. Retailers in France had begun to adopt the moniker Black Friday for sales starting on Nov. 27, the day after Thanksgiving when promotions going by that name begin in the U.S., but now plan to abandon the loaded term after the attacks, which happened on a Friday.
European shopping center specialist Klépierre, for instance, will go ahead with its sales period starting on Nov. 27 but has renamed it “Jours XXL Maxxi Réduction,” according to a company spokeswoman, who added Black Friday was no longer appropriate in the wake of the terrorist events.
The same position was taken by the Fédération E-commerce et Vente à Distance (Federation of E-commerce and Home Shopping) during its press conference earlier this week, when the subject was brought up by retailers, a federation spokeswoman said.
In Paris, the problem is finding enough security personnel. Hammerson closed five shopping centers in and around Paris at midday on Nov. 14 on the advice of security services in France, said Iain Mitchell, U.K. commercial director at the British property developer.
“That’s a monumental decision to have to make, but the reality is you’re faced with a situation where you’ve got to try and make the most rational and logical decision that you can at that time,” he said.
In the wake of the attacks, Hammerson has increased the number of security guards at its shopping centers in France and the U.K. and made them wear high visibility vests. Mitchell did not think the measures would deter customers.
“I think it’s the opposite — I think it’s reassuring for them that they actually see a very high-profile presence. There is a shorter-term financial cost, which clearly is secondary, let’s be clear about that. The most important thing is that people feel safe and secure when they go shopping,” he said.
The demand for security personnel has surged 30 percent versus October, according to Ralph Bonan, president of Abscisse Sécurité Groupe and regional delegate of the national union of private security forces in France. “Our biggest challenge at the moment is to meet that demand. We have already started moving our agents from local agencies — where it’s calmer — to Paris. But it takes time to regroup and find lodging in the capital,” Bonan told WWD.
Bonan said the circle of his clients has also gotten bigger. “It’s any kind of public space — from shopping centers to doorways of regular buildings. This also includes schools, which now request protection for the whole day, and business enterprises. They often want metal detectors.”
Department stores, he said, are complicated territory. “Vetting shoppers at the entrance can be very badly seen. What we try to do is to regulate traffic by closing off certain entrances to have a better overview of who is coming in,” he noted, suggesting metal detectors as the best solution even though this risks slowing down traffic.
“Security needs to increase, specifically in the area of intelligence — monitoring, gathering and responding to information in-store,” said Simon Chapman, managing director of the French office of security consultancy Lodge Service.
Lodge has store detectives operating in major U.K. retailers and they “liaise with the police to understand specific terrorist threats, modus operandi of terrorists and to look out for suspected individuals,” Chapman said.
Armand Hadida, founder of Paris specialist store L’Eclaireur, said he would hire more security agents and check bags, especially at the retailer’s flagship on Rue Boissy d’Anglas, a stone’s throw from the U.S. and U.K. embassies, in order to assure visitors and staff.
“Of course, the situation will be delicate in the upcoming days, but we firmly believe that injuries will soon heal. Paris, and other capitals, have lived such terrible moments, but will stand. Fewer people visit our stores, which is normal and legitimate, but life will come back and people won’t let themselves down,” Hadida said.