Malls Hope Santa Has Gifts for Them, Too

With dreams of sugar plu … er, massive sales dancing in their heads, shopping centers are upping their Santa game this year. The International Council of Shopping Centers says there's good reason for malls to cater to kids.

When parents need to go Christmas shopping, the kids need something to do.

And seeing Santa Claus provides just the ticket—offering an excellent opportunity to draw in shoppers that might otherwise be more likely to go to Amazon instead of American Eagle.

It’s a trend that the International Council of Shopping Centers is banking on. In a press release earlier this month, the association reported that the prospect of meeting Santa Claus attracted more than 850,000 kids to shopping centers during Black Friday weekend alone.

The council also noted that half of all parents with kids under age 13 are planning to bring their kids to visit Santa before the holiday season ends. And roughly 70 percent of parents do some gift shopping while bringing their children to the mall to meet Santa, either before or after taking a photo with St. Nick.

Because of Santa’s pop-star appeal, shopping facilities are attempting to boost their holiday game. Among their strategies:

Brand tie-ins: Taubman, which owns shopping centers across the U.S., found success last year with a Frozen-themed Christmas extravaganza. Now it’s banking on the popularity of The Peanuts Movie, allowing shoppers and kids to get close to Snoopy, Charlie Brown, and the rest of the gang, who will appear in interactive ice palaces at 10 Taubman malls through December 24. Taubman is even letting mall visitors bring in pets that might be interested in hanging out with Snoopy. Another mall operator, Macerich, is collaborating with HGTV on its Santa HQ program, a high-tech experience that features the network’s personalities, for the second straight year.

Wintertime experiments: Some malls have taken to creating blowout displays for St. Nick, including General Growth Properties, which is working with DreamWorks this year on Adventure to Santa, an interactive experience that includes an amusement park-style ride. (“The detail is astonishing,” Melinda Holland, GGP’s senior vice president of business development, recently told CNBC.) Courtesy of DreamWorks, kids can see the titular character from the blockbuster Shrek. (By the way, the website includes a place where you can write a letter to Santa.)

Introducing Santa in new places: Walmart has never really been known as a place for Santa Claus sightings, but that’s changing this year now that the company has begun to put the jolly old present-giver into its stores, in addition to boosting the decoration quotient. “We want to bring more fun into the stores,” Judith McKenna, U.S. chief operating officer, said in October.

The International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas, an association with roughly 1,200 bearded Santa stand-ins (one of several associations in the Santa sector), says that the traditional approach is ultimately the big winner for kids.

“Some Santas have been at the same shopping center for 10, 15 or 20 years,” Santa Bob Elkin, the president and CEO of the group, recently told Adweek. “People who came as kids now bring their own kids.”

Shopping centers are clearly hoping that some of that Christmas cheer rubs off.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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