A shopper walks to his car after purchasing a bike at Walmart in Butler Plaza on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2011, in Gainesville, Fla. Walmart opened stores on Thursday. (AP Photo/Matt Stamey, The Gainesville Sun)
A few violent incidents broke out across the country on Black Friday as millions of shoppers rushed into stores that opened their doors several hours earlier than usual on the most anticipated shopping day of the year.
Early signs point to bigger crowds at the nation's malls and stores as retailers like Macy's and Target opened their doors at midnight. Toys R Us and a few stores other stores that opened on Thanksgiving Day also were filled with shoppers.
The early morning crowds were mostly peaceful, but Los Angeles authorities say 20 people at a local Walmart store suffered minor injuries when a woman used pepper spray to gain a "competitive" shopping advantage shortly after the store opened on Thursday evening. In Fayetteville, N.C., police are looking for two suspects after gunfire erupted early Friday at Cross Creek Mall. And police say two women have been injured and a man charged after a fight broke out at an upstate New York Walmart.
Later in the morning, a Phoenix television station KSAZ reported that a grandfather in a Walmart in Buckeye, Ariz., was roughed up by police after the man allegedly put a game in his waistband so that he could lift his grandson out of the crowd. Witnesses told the station that police slammed the man to the ground — possibly thinking he was stealing the game.
Adding to that, some Occupy Wall Street protesters, which turned up for the Macy's midnight opening, are expected to plan flash mobs and other events later in the day in places like Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Boise, Idaho to urge people to reconsider shopping at national chains on Black Friday.
The incidents come as a record number of shoppers are expected to head out to stores across the country this weekend to take advantage of discounts of up to 70 percent. For three days starting on Black Friday, 152 million people are expected shop, up about 10 percent from last year, according to the National Retail Federation.
Indeed, about 600 shoppers were in line at a Target store in Brooklyn in New York when it opened at midnight. By the time it opened at midnight, nearly 2,000 shoppers wrapped around a Best Buy store in St. Petersburg, Fla. Mall of America, the nation's largest mall in North America, had 15,000 shoppers for its midnight opening. And more than 9,000 people were outside the flagship Macy's store in New York's Herald Square at its midnight opening, up from 7,000 a year ago.
"I came here for the deals," said Sidiki Traore, 59, from Roosevelt Island, N.Y. who bought three shirts for $50 at the Macy's. He also went to Toys R Us for its 9 p.m. opening on Thanksgiving and bought three toys for $106 for his four-year-old son.
The crowds are good news for retailers, many of which depend on the busy holiday shopping season for up to 40 percent of their annual revenue. To draw in shoppers this year, they pulled out of their bag of tricks. In addition to several retailers opening much earlier than previous years, some began offering to match the prices of competitors and rolling out layaway programs.
Their strategy seems to be working. About 34 percent of consumers said they planned to shop on Black Friday, up from 31 percent last year, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. Shoppers on Friday say they were mostly were lured into stores by the deals, that include discounts of 20 to 60 percent on many items at The Gap and a $400 Asus Transformer 10-inch tablet computer for $249.99 at Best Buy.
After showing up at Best Buy in New York on Wednesday at 3 p.m., Emmanuel Merced, 27, and his brother were the first in line when it opened. On their list was a Sharp 42-inch TV for $199, a PlayStation 3 console with games for $199.99 and wireless headphones for $30. Merced says he likes camping out for Black Friday and he figures he saved 50 percent.
"I like the experience of it," says Merced, who plans to spend $3,000 to $4,000 on gifts this season.
To be sure, not every stores was full of people looking for deals on Black Friday. At a Target on Chicago's north side, crowds were light four hours after the store opened. And door-buster deals, including the typically quick-to-sell out TVs and gaming systems, remained piled up in their boxes. Shoppers pushed carts through mostly empty aisles while thumbing through circulars and employees - some in Santa hats - roamed the store. There was no Christmas music — or any music — playing.
Rebecca Carter, a graduate assistant, began Black Friday shopping at 11 p.m. on Thursday night and left Target around 4 a.m. carrying a bag full of pillows. Carter, who prowls Black Friday deals every year, said crowds were noticeably lighter this year as she and a friend picked up a television set ($180 for a 32-inch TV) and a laptop for $198, along with toys and pajamas.
"It's quiet," she says. "There were all these televisions still there. It was shocking."
At a Walmart supercenter in Cary, N.C., things were quiet around 7 a.m. after a mad rush the night before. Sheranae and Stephen Stoddard were glad for the peace as they browsed for their two children, ages 2 and 4.
"I think Black Friday is mostly hype," said Stephen, 27, who works as a security guard. "They put on the sale the things that haven't been selling throughout the year."
David Bassuk, managing director of retail at AlixPartners, a consultancy, says retailers are going to have to do a lot of discounting during the holiday shopping season to keep customers coming back.
"Consumers have made it clear that they're only going to spend so much money, and the people who are going to get them to open their wallet first are going to win," he says. "This is a consumer who is smart and well informed but also cash-strapped and cautious."
Retail writer Mae Anderson reported from New York. AP writers Anne D'Innocenzio in New York, Christina Rexrode in Cary, N.C. and Ashley Heher in Chicago contributed to this report.