MILFORD — Visiting with Santa Claus while on a shopping trip is an age-old staple of the U.S. holiday season.
But the owner of the Connecticut Post Mall is betting that putting a new, high-tech twist to the old holiday staple will attract more shoppers in what arguably is a challenging retail environment. The Milford retail center is one of four mall properties owned by Dallas, Texas-based Centennial that will have what company officials describe as a ground-breaking new Santa set.
Steve Levin, Centennial’s chief executive officer, said each of the four malls will have a themed theater-quality set that will augment the traditional mall Santa Claus. The set in Milford is based upon the 2003 movie “Elf,” which starred Will Ferrell.
The set at the Connecticut Post Mall debuted Friday. The Post Mall is one of seven malls Centennial owns in six states.
“Just like all things in retail real estate, we’re re-imagining how consumers experience our centers, and the holidays are no different,” Levin said in a statement. The set will include interactive augmented reality experiences and a “selfie museum.”
“We’re delivering unique multi-generational experiences that will delight our guests for many years to come,” Levin said.
The conventional wisdom regarding the future of shopping malls is that those that survive will do so because of their ability to offer unique experiences. A 2016 study by the Harris Group found that nearly three-quarters of millennials surveyed prefer spending their money on experiences rather than material things.
David Cadden, a professor emeritus at Quinnipiac University’s School of Business, said “the malls that survive will be those that can develop the most unique experiences for shoppers.”
“You’re going to need mall owners who not only have deep pockets, but also are able to find innovative people to work with in developing those experiences,” Cadden said.
Perhaps the best example of the new focus on customer experiences in retail centers is the 3-million-square-foot American Dream Mall, which opened last month in East Rutherford, N.J. The mall, which is opening in phases over the next year, includes a a Nickelodeon Universe theme park, an ice rink, water park and indoor ski center.
Closer to home, Cadden offered the New Haven location of Jordan’s Furniture as an example of a successful marriage of unique experiences and retailing.
Jordan’s opened its New Haven location
in late 2015 after converting the former home of the New Haven Register building into one of its stores. (The newspaper relocated to 100 Gando Drive in the city.)
The section of the building that had housed the newspaper’s printing press now is home to a 4-level ropes course, a water and light show choreographed to music, and two food vendors. Those elements serve as draw to customers and to keep customers in the store longer: Jordan’s Furniture officials have said the amount of time consumers spend at their locations is more than double the industry average.
But mall owners can’t throw just anything out there: Cadden said before mall operators spend money on creating unique experiences for customers, they need to “recognize who their customer base is and what it is that grabs their attention.”