Black Friday: Retailers begin to worry about safety

Shoppers line up outside of Best Buy on Black FridayThe hottest Black Friday deals tend to come in limited quantities, rewarding the shoppers that camp out in front of the store in the wee hours of the morning to be first in line.

When you combine zealous bargain hunters and a short supply of discounted items, there are bound to be problems. Who can forget Black Friday 2008 when a Walmart employee was trampled to death by 2,000 customers pushing into the Valley Stream, N.Y., location? Walmart spent approximately $2 million fighting a fine from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) over the safety of its stores.

"The precautions that [retailers] have taken have always included shoppers' and employees' safety first," said Kathy Grannis, Director of Media Relations at the National Retail Federation, a worldwide retail trade organization. "Retailers deal with crowd issues in large masses throughout the year, not just on Black Friday."

Last year, Best Buy took preventative measures to prepare for the crowds by holding "trial runs" the weekend before Thanksgiving to gauge the crowd and practice distributing tickets for the most popular sale items. But this year, the city of Dartmouth, Mass., is taking safety precautions even further by placing restrictions on what time stores can open on Black Friday.

If the new rules are approved by the Massachusetts Attorney General, starting next year, stores will need permission from the police department and have adequate security at the door to open before 4 a.m. Stores that do not comply will be fined $100 per minute for the first 30 minutes they are in violation, and as much as $300 per minute if they open more than an hour before the allowed time.

It remains to be seen if restricting operations between midnight and 4 a.m. will reduce safety issues because early risers are among the Black Friday shopping minority. According to a survey conducted by the NRF, before Black Friday 2009, only 17% of bargain hunters planned to arrive between midnight and 4am, while the majority planned to hit the stores after 10am.

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