Holiday shopping season is here, but is it back?

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Holiday shopping season is here, but is it back?

The pandemic isn’t over, but with the help of vaccinations and COVID-19 safety precautions, Santa Claus is feeling better about coming to town this year.

Stephen Arnold, president of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas, a trade group with more than 1,800 members, only appeared at a tree lighting event last year. It was a frightening time, he said, especially for a group of elderly men who are often overweight and who have diabetes.

But this season, Mr Arnold said all five of his tree lighting ceremonies are back, including a grand event at Graceland, the Elvis Presley estate in Mr Arnold’s hometown, Memphis. He plans to make over 200 appearances in 2019, the equivalent of his pre-pandemic schedule. At times, he may perform from inside a life-sized snow globe like last year, and a large portion of his events will be held virtually, but this is a world apart in 2020.

“I think almost all of our saints intend to do a lot more work than they did last year, and a very high percentage, probably 65 to 70 percent of us, we will return to some kind of normal schedule,” Mr. . Arnold, 71, said. “I’m trying to be prepared for a season of relatively close contact.”

And so it is as the United States enters the holiday shopping season that is much more physically present than 2020, but not as carefree as it was pre-pandemic. People are more comfortable shopping at stores, but the number of returnees will vary geographically, and employees will usually be wearing masks.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was extensively expanded, with more floats and a longer route, although children under the age of 12 were not allowed to participate in the parade. Larger chains will also offer certain festivities, such as champagne bars, that were missing last year. Gift ideas and decorations will appear more prominently in stores as retailers expect more people to browse and plan larger gatherings.

“There’s a lot of energy to do things,” said Mary Driscoll, managing director of luxury and fashion at CoreSight Research, a consulting and research firm. “Everything old is new again.”

But the identity of the changed season remains. National labor shortages will reduce many stores closed during Thanksgiving and holiday hours at some malls and chains. And many people are facing shortages of products like the popular toy as “supply chain issues” become the avoidance of 2021. There are also customers who will stay away from stores based on new habits adopted during the pandemic or ongoing concerns. virus, and choose to shop online or use curbside pickup.

Ms Driscoll said caution signs would be visible throughout the store. “Retailers are going out of their way to make everyone feel comfortable, so at your discretion you are wearing a mask, there will be scavengers everywhere, there are options for self-checkout, no need to queue Had to lie down and wait in lines. ,” He said.

The retail industry is still recovering from the decline of store shoppers last year. In November and December 2020, foot traffic in department stores fell more than 30 percent compared to the previous year, according to data from Vince Tibon, a senior analyst at Green Street, a real estate analytics firm. The picture seems to be improving, with department store foot traffic down 9 percent in October compared to October 2019, data shows.

Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennett said in a recent interview that foot traffic at stores had improved significantly from 2020, but remained down about 19 percent from 2019. The decline has been “stubborn”, he said, adding that the retailer expected a correction. in 2022.

Tom Nolan, chief executive of Scott’s fashion jewelry business center with 119 locations, said in-store visits vary by region.

“In the Northeast and West Coast, the numbers are not the same as in Texas and the Southeast,” he said in an interview. While sales of the chain were strong compared to 2019 or 2020, he said it was a boost for business when customers came to browse, especially with family and friends.

Meredith Durnall, senior vice president of Brookfield Properties’ retail division, which oversees more than 130 malls, said people are more likely to make a purchase when they’re at a store than when browsing the store’s website. “The ability to have someone touch and see and talk about the product is real. They even have add-on sales — you come in for a T-shirt, you’re likely to buy denim.” Adding to the appeal of in-store shopping for retailers, he said, is the fact that the return rate for e-commerce purchases is very high, especially in apparel and footwear.

Many consumers seem eager to shop in person this year. The NPD group recently surveyed more than 1,000 people about the holiday traditions they missed most in 2020 and expected to return this year. About 36 percent said they missed browsing retail stores, while 30 percent said they look forward to shopping at malls and returning to the “Thanksgiving and Black Friday frenzy.”

The shopping experience changed drastically last year as many people avoided stopping in stores and were discouraged from touching and testing products. In many places fitting rooms were closed or limited. Makeup counters were not giving makeovers or samples of lipsticks or perfumes. Plastic partitions, hand sanitizers and reminders for social distancing hit the landscape. Shopper’s events were shortened or cancelled.

This week, Saks Fifth Avenue unveiled a holiday window display and 10-story-tall light show at its New York flagship store. The retailer, which last year took a break from its annual tradition of closing down Fifth Avenue for a musical performance, returned this year with a performance from New York City’s Young People’s Chorus and an appearance by Michelle Obama. About 22 Nordstrom stores will have “immersive” photo booths.

At the flagship Bloomingdale’s on 59th Street, the store is offering fewer events than the 400-plus it held in 2019, but more in 2020, when its limited number of activities were held outdoors. There will be more food and drink for shoppers this season, including cups of champagne and espresso, although they are being handled more carefully than in years past. The store hosted a display by Bebe Rexha when she unveiled her holiday windows this month, but kept it to around 15 minutes and carefully managed capacity and spacing.

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“If you had talked to me in 2019, we would have had a wide spread with caterers coming in and hors d’oeuvres and champagne flowing,” said Frank Berman, Bloomingdale’s chief marketing officer. Now, food is more likely to be prepackaged, and events such as cooking demonstrations have become smaller.

Still, he said, the retailer has been seeing a recent increase in tourists and shoppers’ willingness to spend time walking around the store.

“As it relates to COVID, they’re feeling safe, and you’re seeing more of that inspiring purchases, people are going to make a day of it in our stores,” Mr. Burman said. “They’re moving through the store and it’s not about, ‘I need to get this item and walk out.'”

There are also significant changes in what people are buying compared to last year. Clothing and accessories are popular again as people have resumed traveling and socializing. And the boom in pet adoptions has led to an explosion in dog clothing that is welcome in the store, Mr. Berman said.

The imprint of technology on physical retail has never been stronger. Bloomingdale’s is still offering dozens of virtual events in addition to in-store activities. Shoppers now expect the ability to see if products are in stock before they go to the store, to help them mail them to associates when they aren’t available, Ms Driscoll of CoreSight said.

Nordstrom is among retailers using their storefront space for dedicated shelves for online pickup, said Ms Durnall of Brookfield Properties. Popular at curbside pickup malls and other big box stores.

As far as Santa Claus is concerned, Mr Arnold is busier than ever as virtual meetups add to his in-person gigs. Some parents prefer them after last year because the experience can be more magical once Santa is drawn by the parents.

“You have so much information, you get so real and have real conversations,” he said. “Then you stop talking and ask them for things, maybe elves or reindeer or Mrs. Claus and what she cooks in the kitchen. Sometimes you’re faced with a tough question, like ‘Will you bring Grandpa back? can?’ And you try to get your way out of that.”

Still, this is a rebuilding year.

Mr Arnold’s group, which had more than 2,000 members last year, shrank after a number of artists, who did not want to or did not want to work in 2020, failed to renew their membership. Mr Arnold is confident of a strong return next year by the time of the International Santa Fest event in Atlanta in April, which was delayed due to the pandemic.

“You will see that most of the saints look like they are returning to relatively normal conditions,” he said, adding that he was ready with his vaccines and boosters. “And most of us who are smart enough will practice safety measures.”

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