It is the worst imaginable image of America: desperate consumers swarming stores and becoming violent just one day after Thanksgiving, our national holiday of gratitude, in order to shop, at a discount, for products made by workers in other countries. Even worse, this year’s Black Friday mayhem may have begun one day early, on Thanksgiving itself.

A rundown of violent incidents, reported by Fox News, on the holiday itself includes a New Jersey man charged with disorderly conduct and aggravated assault on a police officer at a Walmart; an alleged shoplifter/driver in a Chicago suburb shot by authorities after dragging a police officer in the parking lot of a Kohl's department store; a police officer injured in a fight at a Southern California Wal-Mart; a Las Vegas consumer shot in the leg after purchasing a big-screen TV at a Target; and, at another Wal-Mart, this one located in West Virginia, a man was slashed with a knife after threatening another man with a gun over a parking space.

For the first year ever, Macy’s, J.C. Penney Co Inc., and Kohl's Corp flung their doors wide open on the holiday itself, joining Ann Taylor, The Gap, Bath & Body Works, Old Navy, Target, Best Buy, Toys R Us Inc., and Walmart, among others. Competition is the usual reason cited as retailers’ motivation to open so early, yet analysis by Forbes offers a more nuanced assessment of the situation. According to the magazine, data from a MasterCard spending analysis shows that almost three-quarters (70 percent) of consumer spending occurs at the first two stores a shopper visits.

Regarding his decision to open on Thanksgiving day itself, Wal-Mart President and CEO Bill Simon told Today, “We’ve been opening since the eighties. We’re in the service industry. We open when our customers want to shop.” He also said he is pleased with the cash register results from Thanksgiving night, and also expects a lucrative Black Friday.

According to a preliminary Thanksgiving weekend shopping survey, conducted by the National Retail Federation (NRF), up to 140 million people — almost 45 percent of the country’s total population — planned to, or said that they would shop over the weekend (Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday). For the first time, NRF asked survey respondents if they planned to shop on Thanksgiving Day: of those who planned to shop over the weekend, nearly one-quarter (23.5 percent or 33 million) said they planned to begin on Thanksgiving Day.

In a still suffering economy, who does not sympathize with those who want to get the best possible deals on holiday gifts, as well as those who must work on the holiday?

Yet, another trend may be the most important driver behind retailers' decision to open their doors early. For the first time, just over half of all Americans (53 percent) reported that they are very, or somewhat likely, to do their Christmas shopping online this year, according to a Gallup poll. Since first asking the question in 1998, this is the highest percentage ever recorded.

Video of fight at WalMart, courtesty of TheBlackhawk715: