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Saks fights for holiday foot traffic through high-tech display

November 6, 2012


Department store chain Saks Fifth Avenue is stepping up its holiday marketing through an art projection light show on the façade of its New York flagship store and window displays that tell a story down Fifth Avenue.

Saks’ windows and light show will be revealed Nov. 19 and combine technology and fashion with the theme “Snowflake Spectacular.” The retailer will offer the light show intermittently in the evenings during the holiday shopping season likely in an effort to take on its competitors that are also choosing extravagant displays.

“This is our gift to New York and all the visitors from around the world that visit New York during the holidays,” said Harry Cunningham, senior vice president of store planning and visual at Saks Fifth Avenue, New York.  “It connects us to the global community and celebrates the festive season.

“Our animated windows will fascinate the child in all of us, and our remaining windows will celebrate seasonal fashion and gift-giving,” he said. “The wonder and excitement is always important to us and this year we are integrating digital technology into our show windows.

“This is retail theater at its best.”

Watch out for the Yeti

Saks’ holiday light show will be projected onto the exterior of its flagship store at 611 Fifth Avenue in New York. It will bring to life the story of the “Snowflake & The Yeti.”

The story is based on a “rumor” that a Yeti lives on the roof of the store.

In fact, Saks is offering a Yeti gift pack for $55. It includes a plush Yeti and backpack.

Saks’ children’s holiday book “The Yeti Story” by Stefan G. Bucher is available for $25 as well.

Yeti gift pack 

The show derives from a custom-built six-projector system. It features an exclusive musical score.

The technology precisely maps the store’s exterior on a computer. Then, a three-dimensional projection is created that appears to change the features of the building, per Saks.

The winter-themed show will be put on every seven or eight minutes between 5-10 p.m. at the store on Nov. 19-Jan. 7.  The shows lasts two minutes.

Meanwhile, the flagship store windows will follow the same story, but will be told as a “fashionable holiday fantasy.”

The Fifth Avenue sidewalk on which the windows are located tells the story that begins inside of a house and ends with outdoor scenes.

Each window shows a way that children make it snow.

For instance, one window features 14 snow globes. Each represents a city in which Saks conducts business.

Another window displays pop-up books featuring the Marian Bantjes snowflakes designed for Saks.

In addition, one window features larger-than-life kaleidoscopes. There is an interactive camera display that will turn viewers into snowflakes.

Also, a window centered on the shadow puppet shows children making shadow snowflakes with wires, sticks and crystals. In this particular window is a stop-motion chalk video created for Saks by two Australian chalk artists discoveredon YouTube.

This year’s Saks windows are sponsored by MasterCard and Acer.

“Every year holiday windows help distinguish the luxury retailer,” said Paula Rosenblum, managing partner at RSR, Miami. “This year, we hope to see savvy luxury retailers including technology in their mix such as augmented reality, flashy displays or QR codes – so much can be done.

“We are seeing a gradual shift to Generation X, Y and Millennials,” she said. “Spending power is shifting from the boomers to their kids and grandkids, and the time has come for luxury retailers to start to captivate these generations.”

Window to the soul
Saks is likely stepping up the technology used in its window display to compete in the New York retail scene this holiday season.

As the holidays draw nearer, it is certain that luxury brands and retailers will demand foot traffic through store displays.

“A strong, enticing window display will attract customers and, in New York, a retailer needs to draw the attention of fast-paced people who rarely look at the windows and, if they do, usually keep walking,” said Kathleen Fischer, marketing manager at Boston Retail Partners, Boston.

“The target customer needs to be someone who may not usually shop at the store, but is willing to go in based on a strong display outside,” she said.

“New York is also a draw for tourists who come to the city to be entertained, and window displays are one of the areas that draw audiences.”

For example, Barneys New York could be one of Saks’ greatest competitors. The department store chain began to hype its Madison Avenue flagship store holiday display in August.

The retailer is enticing holiday foot traffic from affluent kids-at-heart through a moving art exhibit created under a partnership with Walt Disney Co.

The Electric Holiday campaign centers on an exaggerated fashion show featuring altered Disney characters as models in designer couture that will be shown in store windows and an entrance way electric light show (see story).

However, the display attracted much media attention.

The retailer was criticized for altering the bodies of Disney characters – specifically Minnie Mouse – by elongating them to mimic runway models.

Los Angeles dance teacher and activist Ragen Chastain began a petition on to raise awareness for her distaste for the program (see story).

No matter the state of luxury in terms of a digital focus, holiday displays will likely continue to be a pillar in the industry and an opportunity for brands to take risks.

“In our digital-focused world, customers definitely like to shop from their smartphone or computer, but they also still want to physically see and touch merchandise, so there is an obvious need to draw a customer into the store,” Ms. Fischer said.

“The window displays and store become the showroom for customers to make their purchasing decisions, even if they eventually purchase from the comfort of their home,” she said.

Final Take
Tricia Carr, editorial assistant on Luxury Daily, New York