Traditions of Luxury Window Shopping, now in a Digital World

I have often pondered over the short lived life of snowflakes.
A short, but intense pleasure amidst the chaos. Polar Vortex excluded.

The principle of something beautiful that does not last is a metaphor for the glamorous window displays that flock the cosmopolitans from Harrod’s to Bergdorfs every season. Over the holidays in particular, the sheer work and detail that goes into them stretches about a year in advance with a group of collaborators building storyboards. The holiday season, despite its one eve of festivity, absorbs anywhere from weeks to months of our time as shoppers and consumers, and even more so if for marketers. It attracts one and all with the glitterarti of lights that brighten up the night sky for miles, attracting shutterbugs and stories for lifetimes.

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Although nowadays, in the swipe world of online shopping, we look at the displays from the glass of our phone, and less from the eyes. And yet they continue to exist in a digital world, which in itself is a victory.

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Tracked back to the 1800s, the idea of window-shopping was born when glass plates began to be used by the likes of Macy’s in New York City. Together with Philadelphia’s Gimbel Brothers Department Store, it also hosted the first in store Santa sighting in 1920 post Thanksgiving. By the 1900s, many American cities began luring in shoppers with window displays. As L Frank Baum wrote in the Show Window Magazine in 1899: “the recent holiday displays have thoroughly demonstrated the progress of the art of window trimming. Every village and hamlet in the land has had some sort of a window display of unusual merit to attract the public and further the sale of Christmas wares.”

The Lord and Taylor flagship on 5th Ave opened in 1914, followed by Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman near Central Park, all of which continued the tradition. The fact that electricity was prevalent meant that stores could display items at windows far beyond store hours, thus making these site seeing destinations for tourists versus simply retail efforts. This gave birth to a new form of tourism, magnified only recently by the ability to click pics instantly via smartphones.

Several holiday marketing traditions were consequently born. Harry Gordon Selfridge who founded British department store Selfridges, was the first to promote Christmas sales with the phrase “Only __ shopping days until Christmas” in 1909. Affluent retailers followed the holiday window decor trend worldwide, including Harrods in London and De Bjienkorf in the Netherlands. Stores began to employ artists, architects and designers specifically for stores, seeing that the return on the investment was one of retail, tourism and branding.

Some favorites are New York‘s Bergdorf Goodman, always a winner, year after year, with their attention to detail and storytelling.

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Saks Fifth Avenue has been a legacy in keeping it flamboyant, just like yours truly.


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And its fun to see neighboring Fifth Avenue stores showcasing their own case of holiday spirit, relevant to their brand. All with more attention to detail than their predecessor.

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Not forgetting our international favorites, like the iconic Harrod’s of London.

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Statistics have it that million of individuals flock to look at store decor, and its likely that they convert to purchasers aptly too. If anything, the competition on social media for the best window displays keeps retailers in the reckoning in a world of online shopping.

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On drawing comparisons between the online and offline world, while tradition is one thing which cannot be replaced, a two by two matrix can be uncovered again for the purchase front: namely, four holiday shopping personalities. I’ve previously called it called it The Timed Shopping Framework.

Holiday Shopping Framework @sssourabh

Bandwidth Basher
Purchasing Power: High. These guys are likely corporate withdrawers from stores with disposable income to spend online.
Retailer Benefit: Shipping fees. Gobble up any margins on those exorbitant overnight fees.

Strategic Sprawler
Purchasing Power: Moderate. Deal scouters as early as Black Friday and Thanksgiving, they are likely to spend in volume. Call them indecisive, or highly social.
Retailer Benefit: Volume purchase and loyalty. Attract them with either volume spend, or future loyalty.

 Methodical Maneuverer
Purchasing Power: Moderate. Detailed, traditional shoppers with a trunk of presents, complete with wrapping, bows, cards and frills.
Retailer Benefit: Traditional store sales, which as we all know, may not be real value sales, but well marketed ones.

Splurging Sprinter
Purchasing Power: High. Beware that these folks may be struck by stress more often than not; even in public. But they will spend, almost effortlessly.
Retailer Benefit: Revenues from last minute shopping. ]It will be easy to entice them with leftover, often non-sale items, or with stocking stuffers.


Marketing aside, some things are best left to tradition. Happy shopping, and window shopping!

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