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."
How effective are Santas in driving shopper traffic to stores?