Will the grinch steal retail’s holiday sparkle?

by Conor Williamson

As the holiday season approaches, brick-and-mortar retailers are painfully aware of the need to create excitement, literally inside and outside, as shoppers during the COVID-19 pandemic have become increasingly reliant –and comfortable– purchasing gifts and necessities through the online marketplace. In addition, the spread of Coronavirus throughout America, which is likely to increase as the weather gets colder and a variety of other factors are making it harder for even veteran economists to predict the future of brick-and-mortar holiday sales. Some see sales as basically flat over last year, some are predicting slight increases, and others just admit that it’s simply too early to call.

Nonetheless, as MR has discovered, major department stores in New York City (and elsewhere) are still trying their best to make the holidays merry, bright, and, yes, profitable.

WINDOW DRESSING

While the stores’ legendary holiday windows have admittedly been a favorite of tourists to New York City, there’s little debate that locals also take great delight in these dazzling displays. So, it’s no surprise that retailers are still making a major effort to impress anyone and everyone who comes by the store.

Saks Fifth Avenue, which is renowned for its elaborate one-night-only, in-person launches, will transition to a 20-night “celebration” to be live-streamed via social media. But that change isn’t going to drastically affect the final product.

Saks Fifth Avenue

“So much of what we would have done in person, like production visits and sampling, is now happening virtually, which has definitely been an adjustment, but the evolution of the process has brought forth a new level of creative thinking. Being forced out of your comfort zone is not a bad thing!” said Eva Maravelias, AVP of visual at Saks Fifth Avenue. “Our holiday windows are our annual gift to our customers and the city of New York. Visiting the Fifth Avenue store during the holidays is a tradition for so many and it’s essential that we preserve moments like this that bring joy and togetherness.”

Nordstrom, one of NYC’s newest department stores, does not have traditional windows, but that’s not stopping the Seattle-based company from pulling out all the stops. It will unveil its labor-intensive holiday decorations on Friday, November 27th. A crew of nearly 100 employees will transform the 320,000 square-foot, seven-level women’s store on West 57th Street into a winter wonderland with 253,000 feet of twinkling lights, over 700 Scandinavian-inspired ornaments, 150 trees, 150 hanging chandeliers, snowflakes, and candle wreaths, 120 column wraps with hanging wood sconces, 50 illuminated branches and 20 wall-mounted sculptures. Meanwhile, red and white lights will illuminate the store’s waveform glass façade, turning it into a blinking light show that will last throughout the holidays.

Nordstrom said that its flagship, along with its Men’s Store across the street, will house a handful of holiday pop-up shops, a gift wrap and personalization hub, visits from Santa, holiday breakfasts, and a host of services to make holiday shopping easy and stress-free.

BUY, BUY, BUY

As much as everyone loves clever windows and sparkly decorations, retailers know that what you can (and will) buy is what really counts, which is something Dallas-based Neiman Marcus (whose Hudson Yards store in NYC was forced to close due to the pandemic) takes very seriously.

Each fall, shoppers with bulging wallets await the store’s well-known “fantasy gifts” with great anticipation: recent selections include a James Bond-inspired Aston Martin designed by actor Daniel Craig and a 74-foot yacht. (Proceeds from the fantasy gifts go to charity).

Bloomingdale’s 59th Street

But the selection of curated men’s merchandise available this year is equally mouth-watering to luxury customers, ranging from cushy sweaters by Vince, a wide variety of must-have accessories and watches from Detroit-based Shinola, eye-catching leather shoes and belts by Christian Louboutin, snazzy sneakers from Golden Goose.

For its part, Bloomingdale’s is hoping to entice shoppers into its flagship by offering a one-of-a-kind holiday assortment throughout its store, including luxurious men’s fashion options. In addition, an assortment of expertly curated gifts will be available at its holiday shop, which will feature a “stocking stuffer bar” with many wonderful items priced under $100.

LET’S HAVE A PARADE

While Macy’s Herald Square (as of press time) has yet to confirm all the ways they’re celebrating the holiday season – including its iconic windows and Santaland – its most important tradition remains intact: The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Unsurprisingly, the challenges of COVID-19 have required significant changes to this beloved 90-year-old spectacle. This year’s event will be a television-broadcast-only production with staging focused solely in and around the Herald Square store, rather than the traditional 2.5-mile route. While performances for the previously selected regional marching bands will be deferred to the 2021 Macy’s Parade, with locally-based professional marching and musical ensembles taking musical duties in the lineup.

Macy’s Herald Square / Getty Images

Best of all, Macy’s signature giant character balloons will still be flown – albeit without the traditional 80-100 handlers – by employing a specially rigged anchor vehicle framework on five vehicles that have been tested and approved by the City of New York.

“The Macy’s Parade is our love letter and gift to the City of New York and the nation. Under the unique challenges of these unparalleled times, we felt it was important to continue this cherished holiday tradition that has been the opening act to the holiday season for generations of families,” said Susan Tercero, executive producer of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. “While it will certainly look different in execution, this year’s Macy’s Parade celebration will once again serve its historical purpose – to bring joy into the hearts of millions across the nation.”

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