Wal-Mart's Black Friday: Frenzied, not much drama

Early indications from at least one store suggest that bargain hunters at the nation's largest retailer could score this holiday season.

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By David Ellis, CNNMoney.com staff writer

Long checkout lines confront Black Friday bargain hunters at a Wal-Mart in St. Louis.

ST. LOUIS (CNNMoney.com) -- They came by truck, by van and even by taxi.

But they all came for the deals.

Hordes of shoppers descended upon Wal-Mart, the nation's largest retailer, on Friday in hopes of securing some of the early deals of the holiday shopping season.

Here in the Midwest, items such as large plasma and HDTVs, $3 slow cookers, and laptops priced at under $200 were among the most highly sought after items at one local Wal-Mart.

"It was a rush to get to everything," said St. Louis resident Gracie Moore, who, with the help of her sister, managed to nab two 50-inch Sanyo plasma TVs and a cart filled with other holiday goodies. (The scene at a New Jersey Best Buy)

Unlike years past when shoppers queued up the night before in order to be the first one in the store, Wal-Mart said it would offer extended hours at many of its non-24 hour locations this year to accommodate post-Thanksgiving shoppers.

The move was also viewed as a response to last year's tragedy at a Wal-Mart store in Valley Stream, N.Y. A temporary employee at the store was trampled to death as thousands of people rushed through the doors at the open.

"At this time we are not aware of any injuries or property damage related to Wal-Mart's execution of its crowd management plan for Black Friday," said Eric F. Phillips, the communications director for the district attorney of Nassau County, N.Y., where last year's incident took place.

While Wal-Mart's control plans helped manage the opening frenzy at one local Wal-Mart, customers there still struggled to find parking spots and even shopping carts. Others complained about the checkout lines. (Black Friday crowds eager to spend)

"You just have to wait," said Kris Bedel, a local resident who arrived several hours before many of the so-called "doorbuster" deals were made available.

A Wal-Mart store in Upland, Calif was forced to shut it's doors after shoppers got a bit too rowdy. "We've heard of a few scuffles among customers, but overall it has been a very safe event," a Wal-Mart spokesman said.

Like many other retailers, Wal-Mart has been pulling out all the stops this holiday season to get consumers into its stores and spending again.

In the most recent quarter, the company reported a decline in sales at its stores open at least a year, often considered a key measure of a merchant's performance.

The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer also warned of softer sales during the final three months of the year, which include the critically important holiday shopping season.

A company spokeswoman contacted Friday it was too early to provide any assessment of how sales at its stores were faring. Typically the company does not reveal overall holiday sales figures until it publishes its fourth-quarter results.

The National Retail Federation (NRF), the industry's largest trade group, expects holiday sales nationwide to decline 1% versus a 3.4% drop in holiday sales the previous year. To top of page

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