Saturday, 26 November 2011

Black Friday sales marred by violence

Shopper wields pepper spray to secure deals


U.S. crowds scrambled for deals, one Wal-mart customer even using pep-per spray to disable rival shoppers, in an annual Black Friday sales ritual closely watched for signs of national economic recovery.

With doorbuster bargains online and in malls across the country, Black Friday marked the formal start to the U.S., Christmas shopping season relied on by many retailers.

Shootings and brawls around the country marred the frenzy, while in the Los Angeles area a woman in her 30s used pepper spray against the crowd while "trying to get an advantage over the items being sold," Los Angeles police Sgt. J. Valle said. Valle said at least 10 customers, including children, were injured in the Porter Ranch neighbourhood attack.

At another California Wal-mart, a man was in critical condition after being shot by robbers in the parking lot. A woman was shot during another apparent robbery attempt at a Walmart in South Carolina, while police reported more gunshots at a mall in Fayetteville, N.C.

The stampede for deeply discounted goods was fed by aggressive marketing, with many stores this year moving up their sales launches to intrude on Thursday's Thanks-giving holiday, then followed by all-night service into Friday.

Sears opened Thanksgiving morning - traditionally a time when families gather for quiet get-togethers - and Toys "R" Us opened at 9 p.m. Thursday. Walmart's big discount rival Target upset some employees by opening doors at midnight on Thanksgiving instead of the usual early bird time of 5 a.m. Friday.

With the nation mired in post-recession gloom and economic uncertainty continuing to erode business confidence, there were hopes that this year's Black Fri-day would spark a consumer-led recovery.

Market analysis firm Spending-Pulse said there were potentially more than $20 billion in sales up for grabs. The National Retail Federation said it expected 152 million shoppers between Fri-day and Sunday, a 10 per cent increase over last year.

Shoppers in Asheville, N.C., began lining up outside Best Buy at lunchtime on Thanksgiving in order to get first shot on electronics deals at midnight.

"This is just what our Thanks-giving is," said Sandi Henderson, who joined almost a dozen family members at the store. "It's a great time and we're still all with family."

The family had their sights set on a flat screen TV, among other items, which they expected to cost about $300 less than regular retail.

"When you think about it, we're probably spending more time with family out here than we would be at home," said Henderson's sister-in-law, Brandy Ponder.

In the Chicago suburb of Vernon Hills, Michelle Steiner also braved chilly night temperatures to line up at Toys "R" Us, saying: "It's a scavenger hunt. It's a big game."

Brent Hart, 26, pitched a tent on Wednesday outside a mall in Fairfax, Va., where he planned to buy a television and laptop in Best Buy. "It's a challenge. I've never done this before," he said.

Certainly not everyone was happy with the ramping up of what had already become a manic annual extravaganza.

"It's horrible, it's consumer-ism, it's making the holidays into some sort of disgusting shop-till-you-drop experience," Paul Connolly, 42, said on New York's Fifth Avenue.

But as it happened, Connolly, who works in finance, had just accompanied his nephew into department store Saks to purchase a down-filled coat for $180, a whopping 50 per cent discount.

"Generally I'm very against these crazy sales - except for when it works for me," Connolly said with a laugh.

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