Like I always do, I avoided the massive Black Friday crowds last week. Instead, I opted to hit the gym to burn off a few extra calories and do the Christmas decorating with the family. In staying home, I avoided crowds, and those skirmishes and pushing matches that have become the norm on Black Friday as millions of shoppers compete for the best deals. Walmart said some 22 million people hit the stores on Thanksgiving night, and with those kinds of numbers, I guess it’s inevitable that a few bad apples may spoil the holiday cheer.
It’s true that the average person is unlikely to end up in a fistfight at the mall, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be vigilant about our safety as we head out doing our holiday shopping this season. With so much on our plates this time of year, it’s so easy to be frazzled and get distracted when you’re out and about, which can make you a potential target for thieves. While you don’t need to be paranoid, vigilance can go a long way in keeping you safe when you’re out in the crowds.
Being aware of your surroundings and those around you is super important, whether you’re out shopping, you’re on a run, or you’re just leaving the gym in the afternoon. These tips from Jarrett Arthur, a Krav Maga black belt instructor and creator of self-defense training and education programs designed specifically for women, kids and moms, are helpful any time of year, but especially now when you’ve got a lot on your plate and to-do lists. Read on for tips she shared with me for safe shopping this holiday season!
Pay attention to your surroundings
Avoid chatting, texting, or running price comparisons on your smart phone, and instead opt to use your eyes, ears, and gut instinct as you shop, Arthur says. Frequently check the space and people around you, open your field of vision by occasionally scanning the entire store or parking lot. Don’t ignore someone who is behaving oddly; notify a security guard and let them know what you saw and where you saw it.
Check your ego at the door
One major culprit of crime during the holidays is out of control ego and the bewildering life-or-death urgency that people put on the purchase of material possessions. An argument can quickly escalate into a shoving match, Arthur says, which can easily escalate into strikes being thrown or a weapon being brandished. If the threat of escalation becomes real, your best option is to walk away, particularly if your kids are in tow.
Have an escape plan and a meeting place
Be sure to take note of where you park and which entrance you’re going into at a mall or store. Then, upon entering a building, store, or shop, identify less-obvious exits (read: the ones in the back), which will be easier to navigate in an emergency since the majority of shoppers will immediately flock to main entrances. Determine a quick emergency escape route with your family, and choose an easily identifiable location outside the building to use as a safe meeting place in case of separation.
Avoid crowds when possible
The key to staying safe in a confrontation is to create as much space as possible around you, Arthur says, which is super tricky to do when you and a couple hundred strangers are packed in front of a sliding glass door like sardines counting down the seconds until you can get your hands on a hot-ticket item. Here’s where vigilance and listening to your gut are extra important. Small scuffles can rapidly turn into chaotic and very dangerous situations. If something doesn’t feel right, throw in the towel and head home. The merchandise is definitely not worth your safety and wellbeing. Additionally, pickpockets love lines and crowds because you’re forced into close quarters. Keep wallets, purses, and bags tightly zipped (a small luggage lock is added protection) and on the front of your body. Standing sideways in lines also gives you a little bit more space.
Watch out in parking lots
Park as close to entrances as possible, and use security guards as escorts if you have to park in remote areas of the lot or garage, Arthur says. If you can’t easily carry your purchases in one hand or one arm, get a shopping cart. Get your keys (and pepper spray if you carry it) out before you leave the store. Get off your phone, take out your ear buds. Check your surroundings frequently and check your vehicle (back seat, both sides, underneath) before approaching. Load items quickly. Stay put until automatic sliding doors, hatch backs, or lift gates shut completely before you get in, lock the doors, and drive away. Don’t spend time idling in the car organizing receipts and planning the next stop. Get in and go.
Get a sitter
Not only are your kids sure to add constant distractions, which take your attention away from your surroundings, it’s always a good idea to avoid putting your kids in situations that are potentially dangerous. If possible, leave your kids home with a sitter. It’ll likely have the added bonus of making your shopping that much more time efficient.
Have a list
It helps to have to have a detailed list already in place before you set off on a holiday shopping trip. Plan which stores you will visit, the order in which you’ll visit each, and which items you will be looking for at each store. If you’re headed to a mall that you’re not familiar with, take a few minutes before you leave the house to find a layout map so that you know where you’ll be going, and the closest parking lot entrances to your stores. If possible, try to hit the busiest stores during daylight hours. Minimize browsing time by looking up store deals ahead of time. Ask a store employee or greeter at the door where you can find the items on your list, so you can get in, find what you need, and get out in a timely manner.
Choose organized stores
While bigger stores will have bigger crowds and longer lines, which can translate into an increased risk of being caught in a dangerous situation, typically the larger, more well-known stores will be adequately prepared for the crowds. A strong security guard presence, both inside and outside, as well as well-organized lines, and waiting sections are qualities Arthur says indicate a safer choice.
Walking back to the furthest reaches of a parking lot with a cart full of goodies isn’t the safest practice, especially during the holiday season. If you’re not a solo shopper, leave an adult member of your family or group of friends by the entrance to the store with the purchases. That way you can walk hands-free (except for making sure your keys are out and ready to go, of course) back to your car, with few distractions, get in quickly (make sure you lock those doors right away) and drive to the front of the store where loading purchases into the car will be safer.