Jackie Socha.

The 2020 holidays are shaping up to look a bit different this year. From a major national department store announcing Santa Claus would not make an appearance in its stores this year to retail holiday season projections anticipating a smaller growth in sales compared to previous years, retailers face significant challenges heading into what is traditionally the year’s most profitable quarter.

While online shopping is expected to surge 25 to 35 percent this year, that doesn’t mean brick-and-mortar stores should stifle the holiday cheer. As long as they’re complying with local ordinances and government mandates, shopping centers and physical retail stores can still encourage safe visitation to their locations and bring a sense of normalcy and good tidings into their customers’ lives.

Shopping centers have an opportunity to bring new light to what’s “normal” for customers during the holidays. Creative thinking can help retailers provide unique, imaginative holiday experiences and memories for customers.

Retailers can move beyond the sale this holiday season with a few considerations.

Chase holiday doldrums away with a socially distant or virtual Santa experience

Jingle bell or Zoom beep? Snowflake or glimmer of plexiglass?

With the holiday spirit in the air, let your customers be the judge. By now, shoppers are craving a sense of normalcy. Retailers can help bring that back by stepping out of the box. Revisit familiar holiday traditions like Santa meet-and-greets but plan to put a creative (and socially/physically distant!) spin on them.

Some shopping centers nationwide are offering Zoom experiences with Santa. Others are placing Santa and visitors in a socially distanced plexiglass bubble, mimicking a snow globe. Kirkland Urban, the shopping center I manage, has rethought the traditional in-person Santa photo op by offering appointment-only photo sessions that seat Santa a safe 10-foot distance away from families, with a plexiglass shield in place for extra protection.

Even if Santa is not in the budget this year, retailers might also consider amping up their holiday decorations to provide additional photo opportunities and promote safe, socially distant experiences for shoppers.

Encourage giving to spread holiday cheer (and not germs)

‘Tis the season to give and get. Some Kirkland Urban retailers are encouraging giving among their customers through donation drives and bonus gifts with purchases.

Throughout November, the Kirkland Urban location of local coffee purveyor Caffe Ladro is offering a free 12-ounce coffee or pastry with the purchase of a bag of whole-bean coffee.

Have extra holiday generosity to share? Some of our furry friends are always in need – and retailers can be ready to help. The Kirkland Urban storefront of Mud Bay, a regional pet retailer, hosts an annual Tons of Love Campaign during the holiday season, collecting food, supplies, money, and litter from customers to donate to local animal welfare organizations.

Adapt your curbside pickup program to continue the touchless shopping momentum

Studies show that curbside pickup remains an important program for retail centers to maintain, especially during the holidays.

According to GlobalData, 68 percent of U.S. shoppers say they will continue to use curbside pickup at stores even after the pandemic has subsided. This is a trend we are seeing at Kirkland Urban; retailers embracing curbside pickup have consequently seen sales improvement.

At the core of this success is adaptation. Since we began our curbside pickup program in March, we’ve also added a dedicated curbside ambassador onsite to help those who need it. As we approach the winter months we expect Kirkland Urban’s curbside pickup program to further expand, thanks in part to our underground parking – always dry despite Western Washington’s wet climate. On a related note, we’ve seen folks respond positively to our 850 parking stalls available for retail customers and four hours of free parking with validation.

Shopping centers must think a little differently this holiday season and support our tenants as we face a retail revenue forecast unlike anything we’ve seen before. While retailers should encourage customers to visit us by offering memorable experiences, it’s equally important that we provide a safe and friendly environment for retailers’ employees and customers, as well.

Jackie Socha is Assistant General Manager at JLL. She manages the Kirkland Urban property.