Malls take more mod­ern ap­proach to Santa vis­its

Shop­ping cen­ters hope high-tech makeovers will draw shop­pers back to the stores

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS in New York AFP

Hop on a vir­tual sleigh ride to the North Pole. Stand on the “Naughty or Nice O’Me­ter”. Snap a selfie and see your face on a danc­ing elf. The Santa ex­pe­ri­ence has got­ten a makeover as many malls in­stall shows and games they hope will lure shop­pers who are buy­ing more online.

About 40 malls in the United States and one in Lon­don have the high-tech Santa dis­plays, most of them lo­cated near ma­jor cities that tend to house pricier stores.

Tak­ing pho­tos on Santa’s lap costs about $30 and up, around the same as at other malls, but most of the malls say peo­ple can walk through with­out pur­chas­ing any­thing.

“It was a half-hour of en­ter­tain­ment that was free,” says Katie Mass, who took her twin daugh­ters through Santa’s Flight Acad­emy, a 914- Ama­zon tests cashier-free con­cept square-me­ter setup at The Mall at Short Hills in New Jersey.

She had gone to the mall to re­turn some dresses, but had to stop when her 2-year olds saw the spec­ta­cle. “They started run­ning,” says the stay-at-home mom from West­field, New Jersey.

The girls tapped touch screens, pulled levers and watched as flight suits were vir­tu­ally fit over their bod­ies on a screen. The fi­nal stop was a two-story tall en­closed sleigh that dropped fake snow upon them. One girl made snow an­gels on the floor while her sis­ter danced un­der the col­or­ful lasers. “It was ex­trav­a­gant and well done,” says Mass.

An old-school Santa dis­play got the boot at Queens Cen­ter in New York as the mall this year in­stalled Santa HQ , where kids stand on the “Naughty or Nice O’Me­ter” and watch their names pop up on Santa’s “Nice List” screen. In an­other room they can take a selfie and see them­selves as danc­ing elves.

Malls are hop­ing the over­the-top Santa vis­its re­mind peo­ple what brick-and-mor­tar stores can of­fer. They’re in­creas­ingly try­ing to of­fer spe­cial ex­pe­ri­ences as they com­pete with online ri­vals, says Howard Davi­d­owitz, chair­man of New York-based re­tail con­sult­ing group Davi­d­owitz & As­so­ci­ates.

“The par­ents love it, the kids love it and Ama­zon can’t do it,” says Davi­d­owitz.

Santa’s Flight Acad­emy was de­vel­oped by mall op­er­a­tor Taub­man Cen­ters Inc, which spent two years on the idea. Like other malls with elab­o­rate Santa sets, Taub­man de­clined to say how much it spent on the at­trac­tion.

But what­ever malls are spend­ing on the Santa spec­ta­cles is worth it, says Davi­d­owitz. Santa has al­ways at­tracted crowds, he says, but ad­ding a high-tech twist is likely to bring in even more who may stop to shop.

“I don’t see many things out there that equal Santa’s power to draw crowds,” he says.

Ama­zon on Mon­day un­veiled a new kind of re­tail store, with no cashiers.

Cus­tomers at the con­cept store in Ama­zon’s home­town of Seat­tle can fill their shop­ping carts and walk out — with the costs au­to­mat­i­cally tal­lied up and billed to their ac­counts with the online gi­ant.

Ama­zon Go, which is be­ing tested with Ama­zon em­ploy­ees and will open to the pub­lic next year, is a “check­out-free shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence made pos­si­ble by the same types of tech­nolo­gies used in self-driv- ing cars: com­puter vi­sion, sen­sor fu­sion and deep learn­ing,” its web­page said.

The 170-square-me­ter store is sell­ing a va­ri­ety of food prod­ucts, in­clud­ing bread, cheeses and ready-to-eat meals, as well as Ama­zon Meal Kits, which con­tain in­gre­di­ents for home-cooked dishes.

It was not im­me­di­ately clear whether Ama­zon will ex­pand the model with more phys­i­cal stores or of­fer the tech­nol­ogy to other re­tail­ers.

MATT YORK / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Fa­ther Christ­mas Roger Ed­monds talks with kids at the Santa HQ at the Chan­dler Mall, in Chan­dler, Ari­zona. In an ef­fort to lure online shop­pers to their stores, many malls are up­grad­ing the tra­di­tional visit to Santa into a high-tech spec­ta­cle.

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