The annual Black Friday stampede to America's shopping malls and big-box discounters looked to be more frenzied than ever yesterday, possibly heralding good news for retailers hurt by the slump. It was also marked, however, by bursts of violence involving more than just sharp elbows.
Attempted robberies in car parks outside two Walmart stores – one in South Carolina, the other in California – ended with a shopper at each being shot and wounded, while 15 people were hurt inside another Walmart in the Los Angeles area when a woman pepper-sprayed shoppers who were attempting to jump the queue to reach a display.
The day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday has long been the busiest shopping day of the year in the US as retailers attempt to kick-start the Christmas holiday season and shoppers scour the aisles for special deals on everything from toys to put under the tree to big-ticket items such as flat-screen TVs.
This year saw many of the largest department and discount chains deciding to start the madness earlier than usual, welcoming shoppers at midnight on Thursday or even before.
For Macy's in Herald Square, New York, that meant keeping lobbies, lifts and escalators safe as an estimated 9,000 people surged through its doors at midnight for an all-night binge of bargain-hunting.
Herald Square and other big shopping venues saw picketing by members of the Occupy Wall Street moment, urging shoppers not to succumb the sirens of the Black Friday sales. The turnout by picketers seemed smaller than expected and their impact was minimal.
Some 152 million Americans will go shopping during the four-day Thanksgiving break, up 10.1 per cent on last year, according to analysts. The key for retailers, however, will be by how much actual purchases rise. The holiday season from now until Christmas can account for 40 per cent of the sales of some big American chains.
No sooner will America have surfaced from the maelstrom of Black Friday than it will confront the next de rigueur day on the retail calendar: Cyber Monday, when online shopping is meant to kick into high gear. A survey this week showed that more than half of Americans who own a smart phone will use them to some degree to do their electronic shopping, either to research products or to buy them.
While every Black Friday brings stories of pushing and shoving and perhaps a few shoppers passing out, yesterday's outbreak of violence, which seemed to affect Walmart outlets in particular, was unusual.
Lieutenant Abel Parga, of the Los Angeles Police, said the pepper spray incident came as one shopper lost her patience with others trying to get ahead of her to reach cut-price Xbox games consoles. "This was customer-versus-customer shopping rage," he said. While some were hurt by the pepper spray, others suffered light injuries from what the fire department described as "rapid crowd movement".
The area of the Walmart was briefly cleared to allow the spray to dissipate. Shoppers were, however, quickly allowed back in.
Black Friday In Numbers
The number of people estimated to be out shopping this weekend
The amount they may part with
Share of annual revenue shops make between this weekend and Christmas
Number of people who suffered injures in a scrum at a California Walmart