Walmart Bolsters Precautions Where Worker Perished Last Black Friday

Last Updated Nov 27, 2009 5:42 PM EST

Walmart wasn't taking any chances on security at a Valley Stream, N.Y., store where a security guard was killed on Black Friday last year as shoppers rushed the entrance to take advantage of door buster specials.

Walmart already had signed off on an agreement with local prosecutors to revamp security arrangements in New York stores, but the company went further and made sweeping changes in how it would approach Black Friday to prevent another tragedy. Critically, it decided to keep its locations open for 24 hours starting on Thanksgiving to keep crowds eager to grab limited-stock specials from piling up in front of stores. Providing big deals on items that are only kept in limited supply is becoming a more popular holiday strategy among retailers that want to grab consumer attention but also want to manage promotional costs effectively. One result is consumers are increasingly aware that they only have a short time to get the best deals, and that turned into a formula for chaos last year at the Valley Stream store.

Walmart retained the practice of launching Black Friday specials this year, with in-store deals going live at 5 a.m. today. Because it kept locations open overnight, though, the retailer provided interested consumers the ability to get inside stores early and didn't force them to wait out front in growing excitement. Also, the company launched online specials on Thanksgiving Day, providing at least some customers with the chance of shopping for bargains without adding to the Black Friday multitudes. In addition, the retailer created a one-day special for HDTVs that runs tomorrow in another effort to stretch Thanksgiving weekend visits and thin crowds.

Last year's incident caused the National Retail Federation to issue guidelines earlier this month on store crowd control in the holiday season, and a number of retailers revisited how they would handle security to keep Black Friday events from becoming frantic.

At the Valley Stream Walmart, barriers forced customers to weave their way to the entrance and security guards only let shoppers in a few at a time. The driveway in front of the store was blocked to keep consumers from piling out of cars at the entrance and agitating others waiting on line. By mid afternoon, a small line continued to form at the store entrance and traffic into the parking lot was sufficient to require that two security guards direct traffic. Besides the security guards, a pair of Nassau County police patrol cars took station in the parking lot in case of trouble.

However, no reports of problems emerged as Black Friday began and customers were patient with the security arrangements, which kept the flow of shoppers into the store moving at a regular pace.