Wal-Mart Stores said Wednesday it will keep its stores open 24 hours and take new crowd-control measures Thanksgiving weekend after a temporary employee was trampled to death in a Black Friday rush last year.
The world's largest retailer says day-after-Thanksgiving sales will begin at 5 a.m. Nov. 27, but most U.S. stores will be open 24 hours to prevent a mad dash. The announcement doesn't affect most of Wal-Mart's Supercenters, which are already open 24 hours. Spokesman David Tovar said the change affects about 800 stores that aren't currently open round-the-clock.
Instead lining up outside Walmart, customers can gather in different areas of the store, waiting for the deals to begin, Tovar said.
"If you've got a 200,000-square-foot store, people will be dispersed throughout the store instead of lined up outside the store," Tovar said.
Federal safety regulators cited Wal-Mart for inadequate crowd management after the Nov. 28, 2008, death of a temporary employee at a Long Island, N.Y., store. A crowd of shoppers broke down the store's doors, trapping employee Jdimytai Damour, who died of asphyxiation.
Wal-Mart was required to create improved crowd management plans for all its 92 New York stores as part of a deal with prosecutors that avoided criminal charges in the trampling death.
It also was required to set up a $400,000 victims' compensation fund, and give $1.5 million to social services programs and nonprofit groups. The agreement included no admission of guilt by Wal-Mart.
As part of the settlement, Wal-Mart consulted with safety experts who've worked with the Super Bowl, Olympics, major concerts and national political conventions to come up with safety plans for each of its stores. Crowd-management staff should make sure people are orderly as they enter the store, while maps may be provided with locations of Black Friday deals, according to the safety recommendations.
The plan calls for the hottest items _ marked-down TVs, toys and laptop computers, for example _ to be placed far apart to prevent big crowds from gathering.
Each store-specific plan looked at how customers approach and enter the store, how they check out and leave, as well as how customers move around the store and near the biggest bargains.
Shoppers around the country line up early outside stores on the day after Thanksgiving in the annual bargain-hunting ritual known as Black Friday. It got that name because it traditionally was considered the day stores broke into profitability for the full year.