NEW YORK—The holiday shopping season wouldn’t even wait for Black Friday. It kicked off even earlier this year, bringing with it the scuffles and mayhem that used to be associated with the day after Thanksgiving, as more than a dozen major retailers opened on the holiday despite protests from workers.
Crowds of cheering shoppers pushed through the doors at the flagship Macy’s Herald Square in New York City when it opened Thursday night. About 15,000 shoppers were at the store right before the doors opened, estimated Terry Lundgren, CEO, president and chairman of the department store chain.
The day after Thanksgiving, called Black Friday, was long considered the official start to the holiday shopping season and the biggest shopping day of the year. But in the past few years, retailers have pushed opening times into Thanksgiving night. They’ve also pushed up discounting that used to be reserved for Black Friday into early November.
Along with the discounts, the scuffles and squabbles associated with large crowds vying for a limited number of hot items invaded this year’s day of giving thanks.
Police said they pepper sprayed and arrested a man at a northern New Jersey Wal-Mart store after he became “belligerent” while arguing with another shopper over a television, and then attacked a police officer when the manager called for help.
In a similar set of circumstances, police reportedly arrested two unruly shoppers after a brawl started on a road outside a Wal-Mart in Rialto, Calif.
And outside a Kohl’s store in the town of Romeoville, Ill., south of Chicago, police marked off a crime scene where shots were fired earlier Thursday evening. According to the Chicago Tribune, none of those with injuries—including one police officer – were thought to be in serious condition. It was unclear whether anyone had been shot, or if the injuries were from other violence.
As CBS News correspondent Don Dahler reported, it was an especially late Thanksgiving this year—the latest ever, in fact. That means the holiday shopping season is the shortest ever—just 26 days—to Christmas, so many retailers were trying to make up for lost time by opening for business on Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving sales totaled $810 million last year, an increase of 55 percent from the previous year as more stores opened on the holiday, according to Chicago research firm ShopperTrak. But sales dropped 1.8 percent to $11.2 billion on Black Friday, though it still was the biggest shopping day last year.
Wal-Mart has been the biggest target for worker protests against holiday hours. Most of the company’s stores are open 24 hours, but the retailer was starting its sales events at 6 p.m. Thursday, two hours earlier than last year.
Wal-Mart said workers get additional holiday pay for working on Thanksgiving. The company is also serving meals at the stores.
But worker Cindy Murray, 57, said she won’t be able to sit down for a Thanksgiving meal with her family until after her nine-hour shift ends at 4 p.m. Murray said the company can’t put a price on the holiday.
“If they want to do something for us, they will go back to the old tradition,” she said.
While the U.S. job and housing markets are improving, that hasn’t yet translated into sustained spending increases among most shoppers.
The National Retail Federation expects retail sales to be up 3.9 percent to $602.1 billion during the last two months of the year. That’s higher than last year’s 3.5 percent growth but below the 6 percent pace seen before the recession.
Analysts expect sales to be generated at the expense of profits as retailers will likely have to do more discounting to get people into stores. More than two dozen stores have already lowered their profit outlooks for the year.
New York shopper Theresa Alcantaro, 35, was missing a holiday gathering of 40 family members but said she would meet up after shopping. She hoped to be finished shopping by 9 p.m.
"I see my family every day. They understand," she said.