A year after an unruly crowd trampled a worker to death at a Wal-Mart store, America's retailers are preparing for another Black Friday, the blockbuster shopping day after Thanksgiving.
Along with offering $300 laptops and $99 navigation devices, stores are planning new safety measures to make sure the festive day does not take another deadly turn.
Last year, frenzied shoppers at a Wal-Mart in Valley Stream, N.Y., trampled Jdimytai Damour, a temporary store employee who died soon afterward. To prevent any repeat, Wal-Mart has changed how it intends to manage the crowds.
That new plan will affect how customers approach and enter the stores, shop, check out and exit. Each store will have its own customized plan. The hope is for an orderly Black Friday.
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The most significant change at Wal-Mart is that the majority of its discount stores (as opposed to its Supercenters) will open Thanksgiving at 6 a.m. and stay open through Friday evening. Last year, those stores closed on Thanksgiving evening and reopened early Friday.
By keeping the stores open for 24 hours, Wal-Mart is hoping for a steady flow of shoppers instead of mammoth crowds outside its stores in the wee hours of Friday.
This year, shoppers at Wal-Mart will not have to sprint toward a pile of flat-screen televisions and scuffle with one another to get one.
Rather, customers will be able to enter the store at any time and line up at merchandise displays for the must-have items on their lists.
When the products go on sale Friday at 5 a.m., employees will supervise the lines, giving shoppers the merchandise in the order in which they joined the line.
Another problem in the past was the bottleneck at store entrances. Like many big-box retailers, Wal-Mart does not have multiple entrances and exits to spread around customer traffic.
So this year it will put workers in front of its stores to direct customers and keep them moving.
This year, for the first time, the National Retail Federation created a comprehensive set of guidelines for crowd control at stores. The guidelines note that special markdowns and historically low discounts have led to larger crowds.
The federation said retailers were performing dress rehearsals with their employees. Some stores plan to serve drinks to shoppers, or offer entertainment while they are in line, to maintain calm.
Also, the stores say that creating a rapport with customers makes news of sellouts and long lines more palatable.