Crowds of shoppers trying to bag a bargain from a Wal-Mart store during the Black Friday sales were last night drenched in pepper spray when a scramble for Xbox 360 console deals turned ugly.
Police are hunting a female shopper who allegedly injured 20 people at the store in Los Angeles, California, after a confrontation at 10.20pm – just 20 minutes after the shop had opened its doors.
One witness described an ‘absolutely crazy’ scene where the video games display was torn down and customers trampled over the computer games and DVDs that had fallen on the floor.
‘I heard screaming and I heard yelling,’ witness Matthew Lopez, 18, told the Los Angeles Times. ‘Moments later, my throat stung. I was coughing really bad and watering up.’
Somehow (the woman) was trying to use it to gain an upper hand,’ a police spokesman said. A fire department spokesman said the injuries to least 10 people were due to ‘rapid crowd movement’.
She had been trying to keep fellow shoppers away from the electronics she wanted – and people were injured as they jostled trying to escape the spray in the crowded store, authorities said.
People started screaming, pulling and pushing each other, and then the whole area filled up with pepper spray,’ Alejandra Seminario, 24, told the Los Angeles Times. ‘I just stayed in the toy aisle.’
She added that people started pulling the plastic off pallets on the floor and were ‘pushing and screaming’ as they were shoved over.
‘It was definitely the worst Black Friday I’ve ever experienced,’ Joseph Poulose told the newspaper.
Authorities are still looking for the pepper spray woman – who was one of millions of American rushing to the shops last night to snap up a bargain before Thanksgiving Day was even over.
An estimated 152million people are expected to shop over Black Friday weekend, up 10 per cent from last year, according the National Retail Federation.
And in New York, Occupy protesters formed human barricades to try and block shoppers from entering stores – in particular targeting Macy’s department store.
The first chain to open up was Toys ‘R’ Us, which let customers – many of whom camped outside – in at 9pm yesterday. An hour later, retail giant Wal-Mart unlocked its doors up amid a flood of customers, while low-cost rival Target let shoppers in at 11pm.
And at midnight, electronics retailer Best Buy along with departments stores Macy’s and Beall’s all opened – all hours before the traditional daybreak starts.
The early openings combined with greater than usual media coverage has prompted retail experts to predict record-breaking number of customers in U.S. stores.
But, as a record 212million actually showed up last year when the LRF estimated 138million, other analysts are predicting even more people hitting the shops this weekend.
Black Friday will be strong because so many stores are opening Thursday and that gives consumers at least six more hours to shop, Candace Corlett, of WSL Strategic Retail, told CNN.
‘It will also attract people who may be willing to go out Thursday night, but aren’t about to get up early Friday morning.’
Shoppers waiting in line outside Best Buy in Clearwater, Florida, said they’re buying back some of their time by being in line before everyone the early morning rush hits.