With the retail sector's push to shift Black Friday to Thanksgiving evening, more deal-hunting shoppers are putting down their forks and picking up their wallets earlier this year. While the Thursday evening hours and staggered openings may put a premature end to turkey day, they may also help prevent chaotic overcrowding and ease tensions at the registers.
In years past, stores have lured in Black Friday shoppers with rock-bottom prices. But with sometimes only a few of the item in stock, competition for those doorbusters has sometimes seemed more likely to lead to black eyes than satisfied customers. Over the past several years, numerous shoppers have been injured in the free-for-all that has erupted when stores open their doors for Black Friday sales. In 2011, a woman in California turned herself in to authorities after injuring 20 people when she shot pepper spray into a crowd of gamers waiting to get Xbox consoles.
Perhaps the most notorious Black Friday incident was the trampling death of a Wal-Mart employee five years ago in New York. Wal-Mart settled with the Nassau County District Attorney's office in 2009, agreeing to pay nearly $2 million without admitting wrongdoing. The company is still appealing the $7,000 fine it was assessed by the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the wake of the death.
The agency said in a statement last week that it "is encouraging retail employers to take precautions to prevent workplace injuries during major sales events, including Black Friday."
The trampling jolted major sellers around the country into action, said retail security consultant Curtis Baillie. "That was the incident that around the country seemed to wake up a lot of retailers," he said, calling the death "probably one of the worst instances I can think of."