Retail Holiday Season Dilemma: Virtual or In-Store Santa?

Retail Holiday Season Dilemma: Virtual or In-Store Santa?

Macy’s department store, which pioneered the concept of Santa Clauses in-store in 1861, opts for a virtual Santaland this year. 2020 marks the first time since Abraham Lincoln’s president that there will be no personal visits to a rented store in St. Nick.

In order to strike the right balance between security and tradition, Macy’s will be offering what it calls “immersive and whimsical digital-only engagement” at from November 27 through December 24.

In this virtual experience, the Elves of Santaland will lead participants from a train station on the North Pole to and through Santa’s village and workshop. For the grand finale, of course, the children meet Santa Claus “through a whimsical interactive video” in which they can share what they want for the holidays and can take a selfie with the big man.

Other features include Dickens’ Village and the Macy’s Center City Christmas Light Show in Philadelphia. The virtual experience is sponsored by brand partners Balsam Hill, Elf on the Shelf, Entenmann’s, Hallmark Channel and Kinder. (Macy’s has already announced changes to another holiday tradition, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which will only be available on TV and streaming this year.)

Meanwhile, outdoor retailers Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s say they are “committed to keeping the magic of Santa’s visit alive” by running a redesigned wonderland in-store across their 177 locations across the United States.

This year, Santa will be sitting behind what retailers refer to as the “Magic Santa Shield” or “innovative, glare-free, clear protective barrier” to ensure a contactless experience. The shield is cleaned and sanitized between each visit by a team of elves known as Santa’s Sanitation Squad. This team will also ensure that all security measures are correctly implemented.

Customers must reserve a time slot in advance. Retailers’ notice posts are limited “to allow adequate physical distancing and additional cleaning”. Attendees will also need to have their temperatures measured and stand on “fun floor decals and signage with winter wonderland themes to keep a safe distance” while they wait. Customers receive free photos, digital downloads, and vacation craft kits during their visit. You can also send letters to Santa Claus while they’re there.

Santa Claus will arrive at Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s on November 7th after a socially distant tailgate and stay until December 24th.

According to a spokesman, Bass Pro Shops has been offering visits to Santa Claus since 2008 and typically distributes over a million photos a year. (Bass Pro Shops acquired Cabelas in 2017. Cabela’s story with Santa was not immediately clear.)

The spokesperson pointed out why Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s are moving forward with a personal Santa Claus, citing research by True Global Intelligence. The study earlier this year found that 92% of U.S. parents with children under the age of 10 want to keep holiday traditions alive, and three in five are comfortable taking their children to Santa Claus with safety protocols.

“This year has been incredibly difficult for so many children and families,” said Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops, in a statement. “With countless activities being canceled and families struggling with additional stress, it’s more important than ever to offer free Christmas magic and help create precious vacation memories.”

However, Gartner analyst Kate Muhl said that Store Santas are a real gamble in 2020.

“With the number of new cases and hospitalizations rising, this could well be a bankruptcy,” she said. “In contrast to the Halloween experiences, which are not based on the connection with a human character and can be carried out in a fun drive-thru way, a live visit with Santa Claus is much more difficult to conduct.”

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