You’ll Need An Online Reservation To See Santa Claus At Macy’s

Internet retail shopping platforms have been cannibalizing department store sales for many years. How should stores reverse the tide?

Probably not by driving their customers to the internet! And yet, as a result of a curious decision by Macy’s executives, that’s exactly the plan at the largest department store retailer in the United States.

This season, instead of walking into Macy’s flagship 34th Street Manhattan store with children and waiting on a physical line, customers will need to make advance reservations via the internet. How will that affect the customer experience?

Macy’s executives assert that it will minimize waiting times. For certain time-constrained customers, that would represent a desirable outcome.

Then why is this policy so curious? Let’s consider its potential impact on consumer behavior. From a business perspective, the purpose of Santa Claus is to encourage individuals to linger and browse in the store. Families who come to see Saint Nick are introduced to various goods and services as they stroll through the store aisles, and thus may feel compelled to make impulse purchases.

But precisely timed visits to Santa enables browsing outside of the Macy’s store and throughout the Herald Square neighborhood. Families can time their Macy’s visits to the brief scheduling periods that are allocated to their visits with Santa. The remainder of their shopping days can be spent elsewhere.

Furthermore, even reductions in customer waiting times aren’t necessarily desirable from a sales perspective. After all, members of a line form a captive audience in a department store. Creative retailers can introduce those individuals to other goods and services while they wait. Although clumsy attempts to do so may be counter-productive, unobtrusive and entertaining attempts may enhance the shopping experience.

Perhaps Santa’s visitors will perceive online reservations for in-store Santa visits as the best of both worlds. It is possible, though, that Macy’s strategy will only serve to accelerate the loss of Herald Square customers to other stores in the neighborhood, and to other online venues.