Holiday shopping 2003
Discount retailers add Santa Claus
Red suits popping up all over as stores look to boost sales
Ducking mall crowds
Tinley Park, Ill.
Kmart, based in Troy, Mich., offers no photos, but the couple brought their own camera and snapped away as their son greeted the jolly old man, who sat on a plain chair in an aisle stocked with Christmas lights and tree trimmings.
"Are you a good little boy?" asked the 19-year-old stockroom employee in a red suit. Afterward, Santa's helper, a Kmart employee in a red stocking cap, gave the child a toy figurine, a Sesame Street sticker -- and a Kmart coupon for a Hasbro toy.
This is the second year Lukacek has come to Kmart to see Santa. She said the visit has become a tradition because she doesn't like the crowds at the mall. "It's easier to get in and out," she said.
Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, said it decided to bring Santa back this year after realizing how much customers crave one-stop shopping, and never more so than during the hectic holiday season.
"Convenience was absolutely an overriding factor," said spokeswoman Danette Thompson. People "were already in Wal-Mart shopping."
At first, Toys "R" Us resisted putting Santa in its stores, said Amy Parker, senior vice president of marketing for the company's domestic stores. Even after the company's own research showed mothers wanted him in the stores, she said, "we were a little tentative."
Given how busy the stores get in December, executives wondered: "How do we handle this operationally? ... What is this going to do to the stores?"
Toys "R" Us, based in Paramus, N.J., charges $4.99 for a photo, and customers may bring their own cameras. Some stores are handing out $5 coupons for toys.
'Santa pagers' debut
But some malls are taking the new competition seriously. To cut down on the long lines -- in some places a tradition unto themselves -- mall-owner General Growth Properties Inc. is distributing "Santa pagers" at 30 of its 166 malls, which are located primarily in the West and South. Customers can knock some gifts off the list while waiting their turn.
"We really wanted to differentiate ourselves from the Kmarts and Toys 'R' Us," said Al Shifflett, marketing coordinator at General Growth's Crossroads Mall in Kalamazoo, Mich. "We focused a lot of attention this year on the Santa experience."
Macy's, the retail chain owned by Federated Department Stores Inc., has played host to Santa since 1863, most notably at its Herald Square store in New York made famous in the movie "Miracle on 34th Street." Macy's executives say they aren't worried about the low-rent newcomers.
Said Elina Kazan, a spokeswoman for Macy's East, which includes its three stores in the Baltimore region, "We have the one and only Santa."