Tesco Criticized as Black Friday Leads to Disorder,Delays

Tesco Plc, the beleaguered U.K. supermarket leader, drew criticism from shoppers and police chiefs today after its Black Friday discounts led to officers being called to stores and its website struggling to cope.

Police attended incidents at seven Tesco stores in the Greater Manchester area of northwest England today after large crowds built outside, bringing a rebuke from the region’s Chief Constable Peter Fahy and his deputy Ian Hopkins.

“The events of last night were totally predictable and I am disappointed that stores did not have sufficient security staff on duty,” Fahy said in an e-mail. “This created situations where we had to deal with crushing, disorder and disputes between customers.”

Tesco, which has been hurt this year by an accounting scandal and a series of profit warnings, extended Black Friday discounting to stores for the first time today after starting with online sales only last year. Police were also called to three stores in the London area as long lines formed.

The scenes at some Tesco stores were “akin to a mini riot,” Hopkins said in a video on Greater Manchester Police’s website. Three people were arrested, a woman suffered a broken wrist, a wheelchair user had a television dropped on them, and a security guard was punched, he said.

Tesco “should have planned much more effectively and had the appropriate level of security and stewards to make sure that people could go around their stores safely,” Hopkins said. “They’ve assured me that they’re going to learn the lessons from this.”

Online Delays

Tesco will work closely with police to make any necessary improvements for this kind of event in future, a company representative said in a prepared statement.

Britain’s biggest retailer also encountered difficulties with its website, with shoppers who clicked on Black Friday deals being greeted by an error message asking them to wait due to the high volume of visitors to the page.

Five times more customers visited the website compared with last year’s Black Friday sale, Tesco said on Twitter in reply to criticism from user Gavin Owen complaining that the site went down a minute after the start of the event.

Tesco wasn’t alone in experiencing online difficulties as shoppers sought to take advantage of discounts. Home Retail Group Plc’s Argos and Dixons Carphone Plc’s Currys chain both carried messages advising shoppers of delays.

“Despite all the preparations it would appear that the sheer numbers of people looking for bargains on this year’s Black Friday have taken everybody by surprise,” said Jon Copestake, retail analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit.

In Wigan, northwest England, two men were ejected from a Tesco supermarket after reports of several hundred people trying to enter, police said. Crowds of more than 500 were reported outside other Tesco outlets in the Manchester area.

In London, the Metropolitan Police said it dealt with calls from three Tesco stores after large crowds gathered. There were no arrests and no one was injured, it said in a statement.

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