10 December 2020

Christmas 2020 is going to look and feel very different than what we are used to. Ordinarily, the holiday season is an important time for individuals, communities and local businesses to connect with the people around them, but 2020 is no ordinary year. Covid-19 has changed the way we gather with our family, friends and communities, and celebrating the holiday season is no different. But luckily, we are resilient and agile. In this article, I explore how buildings and property managers have adapted to make the holiday season safe, fulfilling, and economically viable during a global pandemic.

The relationship between Christmas and Central Business Districts (CBDs) is deep-rooted and timeless. In most cities, the CBD is where we gather to unite and celebrate, and for most businesses in the area, a productive and profitable holiday season is critical to the year’s success. 

But as we know, this holiday season is going to pose some challenges. Customer behaviour has been impacted by the real and perceived consequences of interacting and sharing spaces with others, and new regulations have changed how owners organise and manage their spaces. So, what changes can we expect and embrace?

1. Space & Design Considerations
2. Engaging Environments
3. Digital Experiences

Space and design considerations for interior environments will need to be flexible, inviting, engaging and safe. This means a space that could previously fit 400 people might now only fit 100, and the design and layout need to adapt accordingly.

Property owners need to consider ways to redefine their outdoor spaces, which are perceived as healthier and safer with the flow of fresh air. Seating in these areas needs to be well spaced.  

The resurgence of drive-in cinemas, where people can enjoy an immersive experience in the comfort of their own car, allows physical distancing while offering families a chance to meaningfully engage with businesses and the wider community. 

As lived by Kim Kardashian – if it isn’t on Instagram, it didn’t happen!  

Clever retail landlords know that the customers who dwell and spend more time and money in their centres are millennials, so providing Insta-worthy sets, along with incentives to like, share and post, puts Christmas this year on a socially distanced winning streak! 

At a Big Box Homemaker Centre, shoppers and their pets can take a socially distanced selfie with Santa. Pets have always been the hero at this centre and we have been providing pet photos for over a decade, however have added this Christmas spin to keep the community safe, with the added chance of winning a $500 gift hamper made up of retailer gifts. 

Retail landlords have also introduced decorative way finding pods throughout major centres that not only give directions but also spread Christmas cheer as an extension of the experiential activation, offering further selfie experiences. 

We live in an age when consumers are increasingly aware of what goes into the products they use and are making more conscious choices to favour natural products and ingredients.  Marrying this trend with the move towards creating immersive, stage-like settings within retail environments, will result in an increased use of real-life nature and biophilia featured within activations, rather than artificial plastic trees and decorations.  

Luxury settings such as premium office and high-end hotels might take this one step further, by stimulating the senses through natural scents such as pine or cinnamon pumped through air systems.  

Since the dawn of cinema, our screens have been adorned with holiday tales each year, and for many – “it’s not Christmas” until they have seen their favourite festive movie. This year, we will be experiencing the holidays ‘on screen’ like never before. 

“We have invested heavily in digital experiences and communications to bring the holidays to our customers and create
a connected customer experience,” said Meagan Wakefield, CBRE’s Regional Director of Retail Property Management.

Holiday campaigns this year will have an even stronger digital element, driving increased engagement with shopping centres and their retailers through websites and social channels.

In commercial office, rather than throwing a Christmas party or live event, this year we might see landlords bringing the community together to celebrate the end of the year with a virtual trivia event, perhaps hosted by a well-known comedian – providing connectivity, albeit socially distanced, along with plenty of laughs, prizes and giveaways. 

These digital events are beautifully curated and can still create a sense of occasion while keeping people safe. 

The days of queuing up for hours to visit Santa in a small cabin that resembles the North Pole may be over, and we will now meet Santa via an electronic screen or VR experience. 

These digital experiences can still be set within very nostalgic, traditional settings, and with a personalised service still provided by Santa knowing your name, stimulating the exciting memories and wonders of a Christmas past.

Black Friday and online holiday sales are expected to be bigger than ever this year. Our teams are encouraging an “in real life” browse in store before buying online and nabbing the bargain, encouraging less returned stock (therefore less strain on logistics resources) and wasted time getting the wrong size.

Although the holiday season will look and feel very different for most of us in 2020, there are big opportunities for landlords and management teams to innovate and be creative with how they engage audiences in the digital age. 

The landlords and retailers that succeed in winning the hearts (and wallets!) of their shoppers will be bold and not afraid to take risks, while ensuring a safe environment that offers a unique experience that can’t be delivered elsewhere.