Black Friday shopping mania: 5 tips to avoid the mayhem

In 2008, Alicia Sgro, right, then 14, and Jennifer Jones were at a Long Island Wal-Mart where an employee was killed in a crowd stampede. Sgro was injured beforehand. An angry woman in the crowd attacked her, she said, fracturing her arm and injuring her nose.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Black Friday is a uniquely American tradition, the starting line of the holiday shopping season.

In recent years, the day known for shopping mania has become a day of mayhem, with reports of shopping-related violence -- a grim tally of people being trampled, pepper-sprayed, Tasered, shot and even killed.

The advent of photo- and video-enabled smartphones, combined with the rise of social media, has brought the violence right before our eyes.

Although the number of Thanksgiving Day shoppers has more than doubled from 2008 to 2012 to reach 35.4 million, Black Friday still dwarfs all other shopping days, with 88.9 million shoppers, according to a National Retail Federation survey last year.


“Black Friday remains the biggest day of the year for retailers, and we expect to see that trend again this year,” Kathy Grannis, spokeswoman for the trade group, told the Los Angeles Times. “While shopping on Thanksgiving Day is quickly becoming a tradition for millions of Americans, there are still plenty of shoppers who still much prefer the lure of the Black Friday deal.”

Shoppers spent an estimated $11.2 billion on Black Friday 2012, according to mall tracker ShopperTrak, which predicts an increase in holiday sales this year.

Consumers will have a shorter window for snagging deals this year with only 25 days between Black Friday and Christmas, six fewer days than last year and one less weekend.

A number of stores, including Wal-Mart, Kmart and the Gap, will be open throughout Thanksgiving Day, while others, such as Target, Best Buy and Toys R Us, will open later in the evening after shoppers have finished their holiday dinner.

With retailers stoking the deal-seeking frenzy with discounts and earlier opening hours, there’s even more time for chaos. The National Retail Federation for the last several years has published guidelines to help retailers prepare for the kinds of crowds that Black Friday conjures.

But as a customer, you can take some precautions. Here are five common-sense do’s and don’ts:

1. Don’t go shopping alone.

2. Loaded down with packages? Don’t be afraid to ask security to walk you to your car.

3. Don’t leave your purse (or your kid) in a cart while you browse nearby.

4. Do beat a hasty retreat if you see someone behaving oddly.

5. Don’t put a bargain above your safety or the safety of the people you’re tempted to elbow out of the way.

And below is some advice from a Better Business Bureau spokeswoman for keeping your guard up on Black Friday -- and Cyber Monday too:

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