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Santa Gets Scrooged

December 3, 2012

Taking children to the store to see Santa Claus has long been a tradition designed to increase loyalty, footfall and sales. The degree to which those things are achieved varies but one store in England, Debenhams, has taken the view this year that another outcome is confusion for children who believe Santa is (or should be) busy at the North Pole.

Explaining that customers complained last year that seeing as many as four or five Santas in a single shopping trip was spoiling the magic, the store decided against what they call overcrowding the market. A spokeswoman denied that it related to child safety fears.

Representatives from two popular parenting websites, Mumsnet and Netmum, expressed surprise, according to The Daily Telegraph. Siobhan Freegard of Netmums described a visit to Father Christmas as "a special moment" for children, parents and grandparents, hinting that the real reason could be cost-cutting. "Kids aren't as cynical as adults," she said. "They don't question everything and are unlikely to wonder why they may have seen more than one."

Her counterpart, Justine Roberts of Mumsnet, added that she had never heard concerns about too many Santas, while long lines suggested that visits are actually still popular. Santa and his grotto sometimes appear too soon, she said, but "for the right age group, there is still some excitement around Father Christmas and it's a really nice, exciting outing."

American blogger Talia Ralph accused Debenhams of being a Grinch and doubting their explanation. Going on to quote Hannah Perry whose recruitment agency specializes in finding actors to sit in stores for several hours a day dressed as Santa, a generally decreasing demand was cited. There was also a hint that the bottom line reason was the bottom line. The blog compared Debenhams' policy with that of Burton's Courtland Center, reported by the Detroit Press as having flown "their jolly red-suited Santa in by helicopter."

Discussion Questions:

Are Santas still a good tactic for driving shopper traffic? Are shoppers more likely to buy if they have been attracted to a store by Santa?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

How effective are Santas in driving shopper traffic to stores?


I agree that seeing many Santas in one visit could be confusing and disconcerting for young children. The malls should have a coordinated effort around when each store can host a Santa, as well as when the mall hosts a Santa.

There are so many opportunities to see Santa these days that I can't imagine it is that much of a draw for shoppers anymore. Sales, promotions, in-store customer service and inventory availability are much more likely to entice shoppers to buy today.

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Debbie Hauss, Editor-in-Chief, Retail TouchPoints

I live in a town called, Riverhead, and our Santa comes up the river every year to the town park and marina. He either steps off the boat (high tide) or he climbs up the latter to greet all the children. The children have been waiting nearly an hour by the great barn fire prepared by the fire department. Santa goes into his temporary shed and meets with every child and has pictures taken.

Having a Santa at the department stores is tradition as well as a traffic creator. My kids and now their kids know that the one true Santa is at Macy's in Herald Square in New York City. They have at least 7 Santas and you can choose which line to wait in and you never see any other except the one you planned to see.

I know it is good for business, just look at all the pictures of my relatives on the frig...they are all with a Santa and most likely from a department store or the mall.

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Frank Riso, Principal, Frank Riso Associates, LLC

Santa isn't there for kids. Santa is there so that parents can take a photo that the grandparents will love. It's a tradition that malls aren't likely to abandon any time soon.

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Cathy Hotka, Principal, Cathy Hotka & Associates

Applying adult thinking in the small child world is absurd. Every second a customer (or potential customer) spends in the store is another "opportunity to sell" them something.

But then, Spock would never have the human pleasure of the magic of Christmas.

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Herb Sorensen, Ph.D., Scientific Advisor Kantar Retail; Adjunct Ehrenberg-Bass, Shopper Scientist LLC

Santas are multi-present in all shopping arenas. I doubt if any one retailer has one truly commanding Santa in the minds of area consumers. But if one store and one Santa were to win the hearts of consumers and become overwhelming draws it would, of course, help business. But I am not holding my breath that such a Santa exits in Retaildom.

Gene Hoffman, President/CEO, Corporate Strategies International

Given the economy and the utter lack of progress in the posturing, er, talks about the coming Fiscal Cliff, perhaps we should dump Santa altogether and put a Grinch in the malls.

Bill Emerson, President, Emerson Advisors

It is all about the experience. Are shoppers likely to buy? Again, it is all about the experience.

Just because a Santa is available it doesn't mean shoppers will be attracted, or they will buy.

There was a retailer in the old hometown (Bordine's) that made "Santa" an inclusion in the entire holiday experience. In addition to a wonderful "Santa," there were local school orchestras and choirs singing. There were hot chocolate, cider, coffee, and treats. There were hay rides, animals and other activities. It was nearly impossible not to leave there in more of a holiday and Christmas spirit than when you arrived.

Oh, the important thing? Yes, you left with not just a tree, but with other purchases that were made so inviting that they also were almost impossible to resist.

Just having a "Santa" simply won't break down the doors. Having an unforgettable and remarkable experience along with it will. It is all about the entire experience.

Is it worth a 150 mile trip just to feel it once again? You bet. If retailers aren't shooting for that type of experience and "feeling" they might consider just foregoing the whole idea.


Umm, haven't parents explained multiple Santas to kids for decades? Really, this "problem" is starting now?

For my own kids, I just told them the truth from day one. It is just as fun for them to see Santa in the mall when they know the truth—and it is far more fun for them to see Santa than for Santa to no-show to perpetuate the fib.

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Jonathan Marek, Senior Vice President, Applied Predictive Technologies

While I was ringing bells for the Salvation Army last Saturday, I couldn't help but notice all the children spiffed up in cute holiday outfits. Why, they were going to see Santa of course. They were excited and full of energy at the prospect.

This is a Holiday tradition for so many families and they seem to have their favorite malls and favorite Santas. I am partial to the one at Lenox Mall because he is one of the Santas that has his own facial hair and pink cheeks. This may not draw spending increases for the stores in the mall on that day because after waiting in line, and all that adrenaline, it's time to get the tiny tots back in the car. But, I would suggest it does create some level of loyalty to that favorite mall.

Lee Kent, Sharing Insights for Success in Retail, YourRetailAuthority

I hear the folks' concerns in this article, however the line around the Santa in my local mall was as long as it has ever been. Long Live Santa!

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Ralph Jacobson, Global Retail Industry Analytics Marketing Executive, IBM

We all grew up watching Miracle on 34th Street and experiencing the plethora of mall Santas. When little, children can easily be led by their parents to the 'real' Santa in their store/mall of choice. And explain the others away as "Santa's helpers." Once a bit older the magic is gone, but the tradition is still fun for most. Debenhams has made a decision—whether for cost savings or altruism; does it really matter? Move on.

Mike Osorio, Senior VP Organizational Change Management, DFS Group

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