US shoppers scrambled for bargains as “Black Friday” launched the retail sector’s holiday season on Friday and triggered sporadic outbreaks of violence across the country.
Although there were no fatalities reported as in previous years, the annual frenzy for discounted items saw tempers flare across the nation, with reports of fistfights, a stabbing and a shooting.
US media reported that police shot a suspected shoplifter in Chicago, while a man was stabbed in Virginia in a fight over a parking spot at a branch of retail giant Walmart. YouTube carried a video of unruly crowds at a Texas store. In New Boston, Ohio, a woman was “knocked down” at a Walmart and took herself to the hospital, a police officer said. The officer said the woman was not seriously injured.
Violence had begun on Thursday night, as many stores opened their doors early to get a jump on the stampede.
Police in Las Vegas said a shopper leaving a store with a television set was shot by a thief, while in Rialto, California, a police officer was injured trying to break up a fight in a carpark.
Meanwhile, shoppers in Manhattan reported huge crowds as night owls hunted for bargains.
“At three or four o’clock in the morning, it was very crazy. We went with the flow,” said Jason Flores, who was carrying bags from Macy’s and Zara, among others. “It’s best not to have a plan. It makes it more fun.”
Walmart meanwhile found itself the target of protests in Chicago, Dallas and other cities over low pay. Organizers said tens of thousands of people marched nationwide, spread across 1,500 stores in 46 states. More than 110 people were arrested, they said.
“Walmart jobs should be good-paying jobs, family-supporting jobs,” Walter Turner, pastor of the New Spiritual Light Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, said after his arrest at a protest, one of more than 110 reported across the country.
A Walmart spokesman defended the company’s wages as “on the higher end of the retail average” and said the company promotes good performers. This season’s holiday shopping season is a full six days and one shopping weekend shorter than last year’s due to the late Thanksgiving season. Holiday shopping traditionally accounts for 20 to 40 percent of an individual retailer’s annual sales, according to the US National Retail Federation.
One consequence of the Thursday launch to the weekend, however, was somewhat lower shopping volumes on Friday morning, Morningstar analyst R.J. Hottovy said.
“Traffic is down a little bit,” Hottovy said, saying that some shoppers may also have stayed away due to cold weather and increased online shopping.
Analysts say shoppers are anxious following the October US government shutdown and near-default on US debt. On top of that, global economic growth remains tepid and US job growth has been unspectacular.
The US National Retail Federation predicted that holiday shopping sales will increase 3.9 percent to US$602.1 billion over last year’s level. That is better than the 3.5 percent growth in last year’s season, but below the 6 to 7 percent increases before the financial crisis.
Hottovy forecast that sales will grow at just 3 percent this season. He cited higher payroll taxes and concerns that the new healthcare law will result in higher costs.
“I think the low-middle income consumers are still facing a number of pressures,” Hottovy said. “We do expect a slowdown.”