Is it time to say farewell to a Thanksgiving tradition of all-in brawls over cheap DVD players and bedding? Walmart has unveiled "New Black Friday," which may harken the beginning of the end of Black Fridays as we know them.
The world's biggest retailer said in a release yesterday that it will now offer five days of deals both online and in stores. "Black Friday is no longer about waking up at the crack of dawn to stand in long lines and hope for the best," said its U.S. chief merchandising officer Duncan Mac Naughton.
Sales of electronics and video games, the biggest draw for customers, will still start at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, though Walmart will again distribute wristbands for the most coveted items to make the process more orderly. The company, which said 22 million customers shopped at Walmart last Thanksgiving, will also offer customers store maps and store-specific crowd management and safety plans.
Walmart's Black Fridays have developed an ugly reputation for being consumer events that border on the barbaric. In 2008, a Walmart worker in Long Island was trampled to death, dying of asphyxiation, after a crowd of 2,000 shoppers rushed into the store for a "Blitz Friday" sale. Last year, the internet was simultaneously entertained and horrified by the viral #WalmartFights hashtag, which documented a series of violent incidents at Walmart locations across the country. Twitter users reported knife fights over parking spots and fist-fights over Xboxes; others illustrated the mayhem over toys and TVs via Vines and YouTube videos. America gawked.
"While there are select incidents, it was a safe and very successful event last year and years in the past," Walmart spokeswoman Sarah McKinney told BuzzFeed News. She added that Walmart anticipates more customers than last year by spreading deals out "instead of putting all our best products and deals into one night."
For a giant corporation with an image (and legal liability) to consider, encouraging hordes of hard-up consumers to scramble over each other during a holiday of gratefulness, all for the chance to buy a cheap TV, is not the best look. Not only did the frenzied sales become a public safety issue, but they also drew attention to Walmart's low-paid workers, required to run a hectic overcrowded store hours after sharing a roast turkey dinner with their families.
"It used to be called Black Friday, then it became Thursday, now it's a week long," Mac Naughton told The Wall Street Journal. "Maybe we should just call it November."
It will be interesting to see if Walmart's plan to spread deals out over a week and offer many others online ends up leading to a more peaceful holiday. The store, which also used wristbands last year, will again guarantee prices on certain products for customers in designated areas of the store between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. So the frenzy may live on.