What’s the value of a retro car? Unless you’re a skilled mechanic with an in-depth knowledge on the evolution of engine design, odds are the sight of a sleek and old-fashioned vehicle wheeling around the streets is enough to put a smile on the average passerby’s face — or, at least, hold her gaze for a second longer than usual.
Because in a sea of boxy SUVs and sports cars that look like they were all pressed in the same mold on the factory floor, the strikingly different look of a retro car can cut straight through all the noise. And as some retailers are figuring out this holiday shopping season, the age-old tradition of the holiday window is receiving new attention from consumers in a world awash with digital distractions.
In an interview with The New York Times, Joshua Schulman, president of Bergdorf Goodman, explained that the traditional unveiling of its holiday window display has become such a full-fledged in-store promotion at its Fifth Avenue location that the event marks the single largest in-store production bill for the brand’s entire year. 2015’s offering, complete with Swarovski-studded winter scenes and Edie Parker-clothed mannequins, set Bergdorf Goodman and Schulman back quite a bit.
“This is the largest visual investment of the year, every year,” Schulman told NYT.
However, with brick-and-mortar brands scrambling to get customers lost to online sales back in stores and on the streets, promoting a traditional holiday activity that used to mark the golden age of retail isn’t the nostalgia project it might appear to be. In fact, as Linda Fargo, senior vice president at Bergdorf Goodman, told The Business of Fashion, the chance to captivate customers with window displays is a secret seasonal weapon that retailers need to wield deftly during the holiday shopping season.
“There’s a lot of talk these days about ‘experience’ as key to positively differentiating brick-and-mortar shopping from online,” Fargo said. “Given the inherent abstraction of digital retail, there’s an increasing attraction to actual and physical experience. It’s rooted in memory and simple pleasures, like delight and surprise, especially important emotions during the festive season.”
Some stores don’t just stop at decking out their windows for the holidays. Time Out New York explained that Saks Fifth Avenue actually decorated its entire front facade to resemble an icicle-covered ice palace, complete with 225,000 lights to entice customers. Fashionista also outlined Barneys New York’s plans, which include ice lockers containing live ice carving demonstrations — the perfect gimmick to get customers to stay awhile and enjoy the show.
While it might be natural to assume that customers are more attracted to the flashier parts of holiday window displays than their old-timey charm, it’s important to incorporate the fact that when it comes to capturing an audience’s attention, the different can sometimes be more effective than the polished. And while there may be nothing even New York’s band of high-profile in-store brands can do to stop the trend of customers toward online shopping, reminding customers with window displays that there are more ways to interact with brands than through their phones or laptops can create deep relationships at a critical time of the year for retailers.
Although, if rekindling a love for retail’s days gone by doesn’t do it for consumers, a blend of the old and new isn’t the worst thing for brick-and-mortar retailers, Marshall Cohen, chief industry analyst at the NPD Group, told BoF.
“Windows may not seem to be a part of this digital age, as it goes back to the earliest times of retailing in stores, but it actually does utilize digital in a strong way,” Cohen said. “Selfies and social sharing of the window visit are a big part of the communication of the brand at holiday. ‘Here we are at Macy’s’ or ‘Saks’ shots fill the pages on social media. [It’s] a great way to get in the brand on top of the mind game.”
If consumers get to keep digital mementos of retailer’s retro work, it’s a win-win for both parties, no matter what age it belongs in.