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The art of curating Christmas experiences

Christmas in shopping centres is no longer just about the decorations or carols playing through the PA system.Christmas in centres is about setting the scene for engaging and memorable experiences for our customers. 

The impact of a beautiful moment can stay with us forever.

How often do we hear ourselves saying “I will never forget when…” as we reminisce about a distinct moment in time – often one of our earliest childhood memories?

For me, the sights, sounds and smells of Christmas linger longer and more vividly than any other occasion.

That moment of surprise and excitement when my first bike appeared in the backyard on Christmas morning. The feeling of security when our extended family came together for Christmas lunch (and the mesmerising scents that came with it). Or as I got older, that sense of fulfilment after emotionally re-connecting with a loved family member or friend. Not to mention those shared ‘breathe out’ moments on Christmas Day after another demanding silly season. It’s those pure, authentic moments, underpinned with emotion, that remind us what life is really all about.

In this digital age of instant gratification, selfie filters and tweeting presidents, our craving for genuine experiences and emotional connections are greater than ever before. And in the ever-increasing busyness of life; moments of wonder, excitement, love and pure joy serve as reminders of what we should be actively seeking, rather than be surprised by. It’s these moments that enrich our lives and fill our memory banks with stories to share in the future.

When we make our customers feel something, we create a new memory.
And not just a memory that triggers a social media reminder in a year’s time, but the potential of an indelible impression in the human brain that in years to come will have our customers saying: “I will never forget when I was at (x) shopping centre and…”

More and more, we are seeing market leaders in the industry re-focus their Christmas campaigns around authentic, emotional experiences – right from the entry doors. They take their customers on a journey, starting with the ‘wow’ arrival moments and grand external displays.

Internally, immersive statements allow customers to look up as they stand beneath ‘flying’ Santa sleighs, or to be surrounded by a tunnel of light as they walk through the middle of giant Christmas trees. The journey culminates with the experience of a magical interaction with Santa and his friends in wondrous surroundings.

To further amplify the emotional engagement, the experiences often include Santa arrivals and launch events, complete with dynamic entertainment and engaging characters that reflect the campaign branding. The integration of local community groups resonates with customers and reinforces a sense of place. Memorable moments may be created via customer participation, games and challenges – either physical or digital. Brand partnerships and retailer integration can further reinforce the sense of connection between the customer and the experience. The integration of digital interactivity offers exciting new opportunities to create a unique and personalised experience, including through AR, VR & MR as it engages customers through their mobile devices. Digital integration must however feel natural and organic – it needs to complement the experience rather than overshadow it. Retaining that essence of authenticity is key.

This holistic view of the in-centre Christmas experience (not just ‘the decorations’) creates a seamless journey or ‘story’ that when executed to plan, creates a magical, memorable and believable environment for the customer. It overarches the decorations, print, digital, customer service – every touch point.

The effect of a successful Christmas campaign is measurable; with results showing that sales – both at the Santa photo checkout and at retail generally – are positively impacted, almost immediately.

Social engagement and customer sentiment increases. The community begins to rave about that magical moment that they just experienced within your centre and foot traffic increases, with greater dwell time. The greater the experience and the more magical the moment, the longer the memory lasts for customers and the more attached they become to your brand – long after the decorations have come down.

So how do we create magic? What makes a truly successful Christmas campaign? My advice is to start early.

Thorough strategic planning is required and collaboration, both internally and externally, is crucial. Inevitably there are multiple stakeholders (asset/centre/brand experience managers, operations departments, head offices, designers, suppliers and installers) and there are many questions to consider:

• Is there a journey for the customer?
• Is it immersive?
• Is there an experience attached?
• Is it authentic?
• What emotions are customers going to feel as a result of the experience?
• Does the customer take something away to reinforce the memory of the experience?
• Does it resonate with multiple generations or does it hit the core customer?
• Is the experience reflective of the local community or of the shopping centre group?
• On an operational level, is new infrastructure required to facilitate new decorations and is it budgeted for?

The more time and careful consideration that’s given to these and other questions, the better chance that we have of creating a beautiful and memorable moment for the customer.

As we approach Christmas 2019 and as my three sons accelerate to manhood, I look up from my desk at photos over the years of our family coming together for our annual Santa photo. Every day I am reminded that those moments are what are most important. They keep us fulfilled, content and connected to one another. I wonder what memories we will create this year.

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About the author

Tim Clarkson

Tim Clarkson joined the family business in 1990 after undertaking a management cadetship with Grace Brothers Department Store. He worked for three years as a cadet, before becoming a Retail Sales Manager. 
Tim is the founder of the successful Christmas Concepts Division at Chas Clarkson which has shifted gears for the business over the last three decades, moving it toward bespoke creative concepts.

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