Tomorrow is the biggest shopping day of the year in the US – Black Friday. However, a more appropriate description of the day might be “Dark Friday” or “Red Friday” given the wave of violence that has emerged in recent years. In fact, the first references to “Black Friday” were not very positive. In 1966 the Philadelphia Police Department used the term Black Friday to describe the massive traffic jams and overcrowded sidewalks throughout the downtown shopping district. Nearly 100 years earlier in 1869 Black Friday was used to describe a financial crisis. Sometime in the early 1980s the merchant community changed the meaning of Black Friday to reflect the day at which retailers turned profitable for the year. Instead of operating in the red they were now operating in the black.
In the past 5 years the competition to attract Black Friday shoppers has grown more and more intense. Retailers have started opening their doors earlier and earlier each year and offering more and more aggressive discounts on popular items. While the discounting strategies have been successful at boosting sales there have been numerous incidents of violent and mob-like behavior.
Last year a Toys for Tots volunteer was stabbed a shoplifter. Back in 2006, a local newschannel in Roanoke, VA captured a man beating another customer over the head repeatedly. In Murray, Utah a mob of 15,000 shoppers descended on the local mall. Police were called in to breakup disputes. Many store clerks were forced to shut their doors in an effort to control the crowd. Two years later in 2008, two teenage girls shopping in California on Black Friday started an altercation. The situation quickly escalated until one male shopper fired a gun.
The height of the madness occurred on the same day at a Walmart outside Manhattan. An impatient mob of 2000 people eager broke the doors as it bumrushed the store at 5AM. Among the doorbusters on sale were a 50-inch Plasma HDTV for $798 and a 10 megapixel digital camera for $69. A 34-year-old employee attempting to control the crowd was trampled and killed. A 28-year pregnant woman who was also among the shoppers was also pushed to the ground, but managed to survive. Local policeman described the scene as “utter chaos.” “The crowd was out of control.”
To be fair, the violent shopper behavior has not always occurred on the day after Thanksgiving. On December 14th, 1996 an angry mob of shoppers desperately seeking that years’ “must have” Christmas gift, Elmo dolls, trampled a Walmart clerk in Fredericton, New Brunswick. In an interview with People magazine the clerk stated “I was pulled under, trampled – the crotch was yanked out of my brand-new jeans…I was kicked with a white Adidas before I became unconscious.”
There has been backlash against Black Friday in recent years, but not because of the violence. Instead, the focus is on protecting the rights of employees at retailers which have decided to open stores on Thanksgiving. One online petition against Target has gained 200,000 signatures. The organizer of the petition states:
“A midnight opening robs the hourly and in-store salary workers of time off with their families on Thanksgiving Day. By opening the doors at midnight, Target is requiring team members to be in the store by 11 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. A full holiday with family is not just for the elite of this nation — all Americans should be able to break bread with loved ones and get a good night’s rest on Thanksgiving!”
This year both Walmart and Toys R Us will open on Thanksgiving night. Many others will open at midnight. So the big question is how many people will die this year? Hopefully none.