HGTV, the home-renovation channel owned by Scripps Networks Interactive, next month will bring back its Santa HQ experience to 15 shopping malls run by real estate investment trust Macerich. In addition to giving people a chance to get a picture with Santa Claus, the installation has several immersive features that rely on mobile technology, a statement said.
Visitors can customize their experience by using augmented reality to view Santa’s Workshop and Observatory with their mobile phones or tablets provided at each location. The Elf-Ray Vision app, which is available for a free download, lets people see Santa HQ in 2D and 3D digital scenes. Mall guests also can take an “Elfie selfie” to star in a personalized video.
Santa HQ will be open seven days a week from Nov. 2 to Dec. 24, but will be closed Thanksgiving Day. Macerich mall properties in Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Washington, D.C., will showcase the installation. Agency Pop2Life helped develop Santa HQ’s mobile features.
Use of AR by marketers is still in the early stages but is gaining as a way to bridge real-world and digital experiences, something the success of Pokemon Go showed consumers are eager for. HGTV and Macerich’s Santa HQ show how the technology can be used to provide additional ways to entertain shoppers and urge them to visit brick-and-mortar malls during the holiday season, thereby potentially making a lasting impression the retailer can leverage one the holiday season is over. Total holiday retail sales are forecast to grow 3.1% as retailers offer heavy discounts during the core shopping months of November and December, according to researcher eMarketer.
Macerich isn’t alone in developing mobile experiences to entice shoppers to visit its malls. Simon Property Group, the real estate investment trust that's the world's biggest owner of shopping malls, in August introduced a chatbot on Facebook Messenger to provide users with information as they shop at any of the 208 Simon malls. The "concierge bot" can answer questions about store hours, restaurants, special events, daily promotions and mall amenities.
This year’s holiday season could be a “make or break” occasion for brick-and-mortar retailers that have suffered one of the worst years since the 2008 recession as shoppers shift their buying to ecommerce sites like Amazon. Toys R Us, the toy chain that filed for bankruptcy last month, last week debuted a mobile app called Play Chaser that uses AR to add more interactivity to the in-store shopping experience.
Mobile platforms will be a big driver of ecommerce, particularly smartphone commerce, which will rise by an estimated 57.8% in 2017 overall, eMarketer said in an August report. Ecommerce’s share of total retail sales during the 2017 holiday shopping season will reach a record 11.5%. U.S. retail ecommerce sales are forecast to jump 16.6% with increases in mobile commerce and competition among large retailers and digital marketplaces.