To grab customers first, some stores are opening late on Thanksgiving Day, turning bargain-hunting from an early-morning activity into an all-night slog, said Ed Fox, a marketing professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Midnight shopping puts everyone on edge and also makes shoppers targets for muggers, he said.
In fact, robbery appeared to be the motive behind the shooting in San Leandro, about 15 miles east of San Francisco. Police said robbers shot a victim as he was walking to a car with his purchases around 1:45 a.m. on Friday.
"There are so many hours now where people are shopping in the darkness that it provides cover for people who are going to try to steal or rob those who are out in numbers," Fox said.
The violence has prompted some analysts to wonder if the sales are worth it, and what solutions might work.
In a New York Times column this week, economist Robert Frank proposed slapping a 6 percent sales tax on purchases between 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving and 6 a.m. on Friday in an attempt to stop the "arms race" of earlier and earlier sales.
Small retailers, meanwhile, are pushing so-called Small Business Saturday to woo customers who are turned off by the Black Friday crush. President Barack Obama even joined in, going book shopping on Saturday at a small bookstore a few blocks from the White House.
"A lot of retailers, independent retailers, are making the conscious decision to not work those crazy hours," said Patricia Norins, a retail consultant for American Express.
Next up is Cyber Monday, when online retailers put their wares on sale. But on Saturday many shoppers said they still prefer buying at the big stores, despite the frenzy.
Thomas said she likes the time with her sisters and the hustle of the mall too much to stay home and just shop online.
To her, the more pressing problem was that the Thanksgiving weekend sales didn't seem very good.
"If I'm going to get shot, at least let me get a good deal," Thomas said.
Associated Press Writers Julie Walker in New York, Christina Rexrode in Raleigh, N.C., John C. Rogers in Los Angeles and Terry Tang in Phoenix contributed to this report
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