How Much Crazier Can Black Friday Get?

NEW YORK (AP) -- Pepper-sprayed customers, smash-and-grab looters and bloody scenes in the shopping aisles. How did Black Friday devolve into this?

As reports of shopping-related violence rolled in this week from Los Angeles to New York, experts say a volatile mix of desperate retailers and cutthroat marketing has hyped the traditional post-Thanksgiving sales to increasingly frenzied levels. With stores opening earlier, bargain-obsessed shoppers often are sleep-deprived and short-tempered. Arriving in darkness, they also find themselves vulnerable to savvy parking-lot muggers.

Add in the online-coupon phenomenon, which feeds the psychological hunger for finding impossible bargains, and you've got a recipe for trouble, said Theresa Williams, a marketing professor at Indiana University.

"These are people who should know better and have enough stuff already," Williams said. "What's going to be next year, everybody getting Tasered?"

Across the country on Thursday and Friday, there were signs that tensions had ratcheted up a notch or two, with violence resulting in several instances.

A woman turned herself in to police after allegedly pepper-spraying 20 other customers at a Los Angeles-area Walmart on Thursday in what investigators said was an attempt to get at a crate of Xbox video game consoles. In Kinston, N.C., a security guard also pepper-sprayed customers seeking electronics before the start of a midnight sale.

In New York, crowds reportedly looted a clothing store in Soho. At a Walmart near Phoenix, a man was bloodied while being subdued by police officer on suspicion of shoplifting a video game. There was a shooting outside a store in San Leandro, Calif., shots fired at a mall in Fayetteville, N.C. and a stabbing outside a store in Sacramento, N.Y.

"The difference this year is that instead of a nice sweater you need a bullet proof vest and goggles," said Betty Thomas, 52, who was shopping Saturday with her sisters and a niece at Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh, N.C.

The wave of violence revived memories of the 2008 Black Friday stampede that killed an employee and put a pregnant woman in the hospital at a Walmart on New York's Long Island. Walmart spokesman Greg Rossiter said Black Friday 2011 was safe at most of its nearly 4,000 U.S. stores despite "a few unfortunate incidents."

Black Friday - named that because it puts retailers "in the black" - has become more intense as companies compete for customers in a weak economy, said Jacob Jacoby, an expert on consumer behavior at New York University.

The idea of luring in customers with a few "doorbuster" deals has long been a staple of the post-Thanksgiving sales. But now stores are opening earlier, and those deals are getting more extreme, he said.

"There's an awful lot of psychology going on here," Jacoby said. "There's the notion of scarcity - when something's scarce it's more valued. And a resource that can be very scarce is time: If you don't get there in time, it's going to be gone."

There's also a new factor, Williams said: the rise of coupon websites like Groupon and LivingSocial, the online equivalents of doorbusters that usually deliver a single, one-day offer with savings of up to 80 percent on museum tickets, photo portraits, yoga classes and the like.

The services encourage impulse buying and an obsession with bargains, Williams said, while also getting businesses hooked on quick infusions of customers.

"The whole notion of getting a deal, that's all we've seen for the last two years," Williams said. "It's about stimulating consumers' quick reactions. How do we get their attention quickly? How do we create cash flow for today?"

To grab customers first, some stores are opening late on Thanksgiving Day, turning bargain-hunting from an early-morning activity into an all-night slog, said Ed Fox, a marketing professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Midnight shopping puts everyone on edge and also makes shoppers targets for muggers, he said.

In fact, robbery appeared to be the motive behind the shooting in San Leandro, about 15 miles east of San Francisco. Police said robbers shot a victim as he was walking to a car with his purchases around 1:45 a.m. on Friday.

"There are so many hours now where people are shopping in the darkness that it provides cover for people who are going to try to steal or rob those who are out in numbers," Fox said.

The violence has prompted some analysts to wonder if the sales are worth it, and what solutions might work.

In a New York Times column this week, economist Robert Frank proposed slapping a 6 percent sales tax on purchases between 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving and 6 a.m. on Friday in an attempt to stop the "arms race" of earlier and earlier sales.

Small retailers, meanwhile, are pushing so-called Small Business Saturday to woo customers who are turned off by the Black Friday crush. President Barack Obama even joined in, going book shopping on Saturday at a small bookstore a few blocks from the White House.

"A lot of retailers, independent retailers, are making the conscious decision to not work those crazy hours," said Patricia Norins, a retail consultant for American Express.

Next up is Cyber Monday, when online retailers put their wares on sale. But on Saturday many shoppers said they still prefer buying at the big stores, despite the frenzy.

Thomas said she likes the time with her sisters and the hustle of the mall too much to stay home and just shop online.

To her, the more pressing problem was that the Thanksgiving weekend sales didn't seem very good.

"If I'm going to get shot, at least let me get a good deal," Thomas said.

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Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
  • by Tired Location: Hertford on Nov 28, 2011 at 08:57 AM
    I'm tired of hearing about Black Friday and while I'm at it, also Steve Jobs. Let's move on!
  • by Anonymous on Nov 28, 2011 at 04:36 AM
    Darwin would be proud, so many people viaing for a darwin award.
  • by Paula Location: Greenville Nc on Nov 27, 2011 at 05:31 PM
    Found a book for 2 bucks to give to someone got my neices and nephews puzzles that a kid used once and took care of the box for 1.00 a piece nice ones also guess what I had to get up at 8 in the morning and I didnt get jumped and they will love it . You dont have to buy the most expensive gift for someone for them to love you they already love you
    • reply
      by Recycled Toys on Nov 28, 2011 at 02:08 AM in reply to Paula
      I use to love recycled toys! Some toys never go out of style. The ones that don't break or wear out (Yo-yos, plastic figurines, cars, etc.) are always a favorite.
  • by Dark Horse Location: NC on Nov 27, 2011 at 04:59 PM
    Yes, it can get crazier. You will not find me there. I prefer to shop online to avoid the hassles of being in unsafe areas in the middle of the night. Sure, there are cyber thieves out there too, but I prefer to take my chances online versus getting shot at WalMart.
  • by saywha? Location: Washington on Nov 27, 2011 at 04:37 PM
    Let's be honest, this whole Black Friday craziness is as much a function of the media hyping the rare instances of bad behavior in order to draw in viewers. I mean, there are roughly 4,000 Walmart stores in this country and there were less than 20 that had incidents that made the news......less than half of one percent. I'm pretty sure way more than 20 Wal Marts a day have arrests made in them, for odds and ends reasons, on any given day so why all the teeth gnashing over Black Friday?
    • reply
      by Friday Police Reports on Nov 28, 2011 at 02:03 AM in reply to saywha?
      I doubt seriously that we've seen ALL the BF police reports in the nation. Unreported instances are probably more numerous. I wonder how many break-ins and robberies were connected with the event? We may never know. There could be many more reports trickling in, even months later.
  • by Stupid is as stupid does Location: ENC on Nov 27, 2011 at 04:30 PM
    Amazing the greed of folks to think they will save a few bucks, spend hours in line, put their life and others on the line for what? People are idiots, cause if you shop prior to and after these days you will find the similar bargains, and not mediocre merchandise as are the "leaders" of these big companies. Not worth it my friends, given number unemployed and looking to feed their families. Christmas is not about the "money you spend on gifts" it is about loving your family and friends. Geez get a grip you folks...Stupd is as stupd does.
    • reply
      by Formerly O.L.I. on Nov 28, 2011 at 05:59 AM in reply to Stupid is as stupid does
      Agree. Think 'January Clearance Sales'.
  • by George Location: Greenville on Nov 27, 2011 at 04:20 PM
    People have been trained like pavlovian dogs to drool over sales and shopping. 80 years of Madison Avenues finest minds in advertising have devised campaigns clever enough to trigger reactions in your subconscious. They've learned everything from class envy, to what "jingle" stimulates the most neurons. So, when we see 1500 people lined up outside a retailer, we know that "some" are there for the fun and excitement of just 'doing it", while others are there because they've been trained to be there. TV told them to.
  • by walmart employee Location: nc on Nov 27, 2011 at 04:01 PM
    I work for walmart and i usually work blitz (black friday) i have noticed that throughout the years it has really gotten crazy. fighting over the stupidest stuff. thank god we only had one fight but our fellow stores got peppered sprayed.and lord if we sell out of a item before hand the customer wants to have a hissy fit. and that just gets them started even harder. just remeber we are humans on the other side of the register just like you are on the opposite side. if everyone would stay calm things would turn out alot better instead of fighting over a $1.26 towel
  • by Helen Location: Greenville on Nov 27, 2011 at 03:44 PM
    I wonder what the shoplifting, smash and grab looting losses were for black Friday? After running those numbers along with extra costs for security, property damage and possible law suits, are they really in the black after all that??
    • reply
      by More Figures on Nov 28, 2011 at 01:50 AM in reply to Helen
      I wonder how many people that waited outside 24-48 hours got sick and are now gonna miss work AND have to spend money on doctor/medication bills.
      • reply
        by Concerned on Nov 28, 2011 at 08:10 AM in reply to More Figures
        More Figures: A lot of them are not concerned because in the area I was at alot of them were on government assistance which meant they were spending our money as we are the taxpayers and it will be our money that pays their Dr. bills. They will continue on robbing the governmenta nd lying about their status as noted by a lady having a walking cane one minute and then putting it down to get her item she was waiting on and left the walking stick and walked after picking this item up better than 95% in the store!
  • by anon Location: wallace on Nov 27, 2011 at 01:32 PM
    u mean black and blue friday don;t u? it all started with cabbage patch dolls and elmo at k mart many years ago!! greed!!!!! these people are so crazy to go and wait in line to save a few bucks and end up in court on a misd. charge that will stay on their record the rest of their lives over nothing. stay home and have family time and be thankful for what you do have and remember what Christmas is all about. wal mart and other stores should be closed that day and this ruckus and stupid fighting and camping out for days to save a few dollars would stop and the madness would end. when you step back and look at it, it is nothing more than a mob scene and crazy people trrying to save a dollar over nothing that will not work in a few years or wear out and you still haven;t accomplished nothing but teaching your children stupid things to do instead of morals and values! just look at he video!! what have people become in this world!! this stuff will be outdated and on sale for less in Jan.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Nov 27, 2011 at 08:26 PM in reply to anon
      If they close on Friday, they'll open on Saturday and then it will be Black Saturday. Closing isn't the preventative answer. Not having sales is. Convince the stores not to have sales on their inventory that they're trying to get rid of at the end of the year - you can try. If you want to know the root of the problem it's the IRS.
      • reply
        by anon on Nov 28, 2011 at 05:52 AM in reply to
        back at ya. i agree with u on that. Merry Christmas
    • reply
      by I Stayed Home on Nov 28, 2011 at 01:46 AM in reply to anon
      I spent time with family and stayed home all weekend. I missed a few bargins on some electronics that I don't REALLY NEED and avoided any trouble or problems associated with Black Friday. I didn't even shop online! Who in their right mind would get involved in frenzied behavior? ...Answer: the USA
      • reply
        by anon on Nov 28, 2011 at 05:52 AM in reply to I Stayed Home
        that is what i am talking about. Merry Christmas to you also. be safe

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