The magic business of Holiday Windows

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, from the twinkling lights and the holiday decorations all over the city, to most importantly, stores window displays. A perfect holiday window display is a great way to to draw customers who are in a festive, spending mood into stores they might not have stopped by otherwise. That’s why every retailer seems to be competing to have the most extravagant and attention-grabbing window display every year. But how much does all this effort and investment put into something seasonal pay off?

photo 1 Courtesy of Printemps

The window dressing tradition has been around for a very long time, we can trace its beginning back to the industrial revolution. The widespread availability of glass at that time let owners of shops build large windows to display their products, and hence window-shopping was born. One of the first and most important holiday window displays was Macy’s New York store which featured porcelain dolls back in 1874. But the early 1900’s when the competition to grab customers’ attention really grew, and it got tougher with every holiday season with new actors hopping on the bandwagon.

photo 3Courtesy of Library of Mulberry

The creation of these festive window displays is definitely not easy, as the process can take as long as one year. Designers start thinking about what to do next year even before this year’s decorations are put away. Putting a holiday display together is quite similar to putting on a theatrical show, ideas are brought to life with the help of set designers, engineers and composers. The result is worth around a million dollars including all equipment, material and staff.

Holiday window displays are a business that drives foot traffic. Macy’s 34th street flagship clocks around 15,000 passerby per hour, up from the ordinary 10,000, while Lord&Taylor has an estimate of 500,000 people passing by its windows daily. “These aren’t necessarily people coming to go inside the store,” Roya Sullivan, Macy’s national window director, told Refinery29. “But certainly, after they’ve had a wonderful, positive experience outside the building, it will bring people in.” It apparently boosts sales— analysts say it’s almost impossible to evaluate, though they try.

The holiday season amounts to almost 25% of annual sales for retailers, with the average consumer spending $805.65 on Christmas shopping. According to a NPD research, window displays influence purchase 24% of the time.


photo 4Courtesy of Ricky Zehavi for Tiffany & Co

However, it seems that nowadays the competitive atmosphere has left its way to a more collective tradition. Although some of the window-shoppers do go into stores and boost sales, most of the hard work is for those who just come to experience a Christmas spirit and see the creative works of all these big retailers. “It’s our gift to the city,” explained Denis Frenette, senior vice president of merchandise presentation at Lord & Taylor. It might seem strange that a sales and profit driven industry would make all this investment for the customer experience, but it just goes to show how seriously retailers take Christmas traditions.

Although in the new era, most of the holiday shopping, browsing and buying is done online (about 46 percent), it still hasn’t eliminated the need and the want for shopping in real life brick and mortar stores. The e-commerce sales for the third retail quarter are up 15.6% from last year but that doesn’t mean consumers don’t go out and experience the pure beauty of holiday displays. Instead of not bothering to create wonderful displays just because people tend to shop online more often, retailers can embrace and use this technology to their own good to take their displays one step further.

This years long holiday window display tradition doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, much to the relief of thousands of people who enjoy them every year. So even after this holiday season is over, there is still a lot to look forward to for the next.




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