Wal-Mart wristbands deter shopper melees

WASHINGTON — With an estimated 140 million Americans predicted to shop this weekend, retailers are bolstering security, deploying Segway patrols and putting on live music to distract shoppers and avoid the deal-hunting scrums that have fostered Black Friday tramplings.

Malls are beefing up patrols with off-duty cops. Chains including Wal-Mart Stores are using quota systems, including wristbands, for popular doorbusters from iPads to jewelry. The National Retail Federation issued crowd management guidelines, urging stores to prepare for flash mobs, long lines of angry customers and crowded washrooms. The Washington-based trade group has sent out the memo annually since a Wal-Mart worker was trampled to death in 2008 during a Black Friday melee.

Sales from Black Friday through Cyber Monday will increase 2.2 percent to $40.5 billion, IBISWorld Inc. predicted. General merchandisers such as Wal-Mart, Target Corp. and Sears Holdings Corp. typically attract the biggest crowds. That’s because shoppers want to get everything at one place on a day when traffic and parking are challenging, said Rich Mellor, the NRF’s vice president of loss prevention.

Shoppers are “anxious to be first,” he said. “They get really rambunctious coming in the door. You have to be informative so they’re not going crazy looking for whatever.”

Stores ramped up security precautions earlier than ever this year because so many chains opened their doors on Thanksgiving Day. Nearly a quarter of shoppers, or 33 million people, intending to hit the stores this holiday weekend planned to shop Thursday, according to an NRF survey.

Even as retailers prepare for potential trouble during the annual shopathon, they’re piling on the discounts to persuade wary shoppers to spend.

Black Friday safety became a preoccupation for retailers after the Wal-Mart worker’s death five years ago at a store in Valley Stream, N.Y.

The Occupational Safety &Health Administration cited the company for “inadequate crowd management,” and in May, 2009, said the worker died of asphyxiation after he was knocked to the ground and trampled by a crowd of about 2,000 shoppers who surged into the store for a “Blitz Friday” sale.

With more stores opening on Thanksgiving, malls have been seeing more guests who drank too much booze with their turkey, said Garth Gasse, director of retail operations and asset protection at the Retail Industry Leaders Association, an Arlington, Va., trade group. “They’ve probably consumed a few and they probably shouldn’t be out shopping,” Gasse said.

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