How malls are remaking the holiday experience

Tech-enabled traditions keep consumers celebrating safely

Chuck Steelman joined Trademark Property Company as vice president of experience just this summer. His first task was reimagining the holiday season in the midst of a pandemic. While many of Trademark’s properties are outdoor, mixed-use properties, the four-story Galleria Dallas is an indoor space that is deeply embedded in many families’ holiday traditions.

Steelman, a former Neiman Marcus Group executive, spoke with NRF about the challenges and opportunities in creating magic this holiday season.

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Chuck Steelman
Chuck Steelman,
​​​​​​​VP, Experience,
Trademark Property Company

What is the biggest hurdle in creating a holiday event in 2020?

The biggest hurdle is crowd control. Naturally, for shopping centers, malls and department stores, this is the busiest time of year. We want to make sure we’re offering opportunities for people to visit the shopping center and feel safe.

Sometimes a disruption like the pandemic can force us to rethink the way things have always been done. What opportunities does this create for a new type of holiday tradition?

We’re embracing technology to eliminate crowds and to improve the guest experience. When you go online and register to visit Santa, you select a 15-minute window, so everyone is socially distanced while they wait. Because it’s all digital, you can enter the child’s name and a few special gifts they’re anticipating.

The minute the child steps into the experience, Santa can address the child by name and say, ‘I know you’re looking forward to the new Barbie doll.’ The child can have a really cool conversation with Santa.

Most of Trademark’s properties invested in a new Santa set. Santa is going to be six feet away, but still offer a magical experience that families look forward to. At Galleria Dallas, we have a three-level sleigh with Santa at the top. The second level is clear, and the family stands on the bottom level. When you take the photo, it looks like you’re in the sleigh with Santa. We’ve eliminated the need to look at a screen and select just one photo. You will receive all the photos that are taken digitally. We have taken extra steps to make the entire experience as touchless as possible.

Another initiative we’ve instituted is curbside pickup. Many of our retailers will allow shoppers to order over the phone or online and have merchandise delivered directly to their vehicles. Furthermore, our virtual Talent Talk series has brought shoppers virtually into our stores to see trunk shows, seasonal merchandise and more.

How has COVID changed the way holiday engagement looks?

When I first realized the pandemic wasn’t going to go away before Christmas, I started to look at how we would need to handle holidays differently. Since most schools are not allowing their choirs to perform, this eliminated the opportunity to host those entertainers. That has required us to come up with some new ways of engaging the community throughout the holiday season.

We partnered with Snow Day Dallas, an immersive experience with amazing Instagrammable moments. One room might be upside-down, where you are standing next to the hanging chandelier with the Christmas Tree and sofa above your head. The photography is all digital and guests can also use their smartphones. There will be 10 to 12 different vignettes that customers can enjoy. That’s one example of something that we’ve done to preserve the magic of Christmas while remaining safe.

You have incorporated a lot of local nonprofits, who have undoubtedly been struggling in 2020. How has that been received and what advice would you offer other retailers about this initiative?

Trademark Properties and Galleria Dallas have always valued being important community partners. This year, charities have faced new challenges due to the pandemic. In August, Galleria Dallas partnered with the Make-A-Wish Foundation of North Texas and hosted an art auction and exhibit created by the children who have benefited from the foundation. The partnership raised $10,000, which is the amount Make-A-Wish needs to grant a wish.

This month-long activation allowed the community to come in and view the art in person throughout the month based upon their schedule. Additionally, the art was displayed online where supporters could view the art and bid.

Holiday shopping 2020

Check out other ways holiday shopping is changing this year here.

The success of that partnership led to a monthly charity installation. It has been a great way to engage with our customers, to allow them to know that we’re still relevant and still supporting the community.

In November, we’re hosting Fashion Group International of Dallas with “Fashion Meets Mask.” FGI commissioned 60 face masks from celebrities, local influencers and fashion designers. The masks will be on display until November 30, and customers can view in person or online and bid on their favorites. Then 100 percent of the proceeds goes to fund scholarships for fashion and marketing students.

The charities are grateful, and it requires minimal effort on their part. This is a unique way that Galleria Dallas and Trademark Property have differentiated themselves as community partners.

At Galleria Dallas, our ice skating rink hosts the nation’s tallest indoor Christmas tree. For decades, it has been a tradition for people to stay at the Westin and skate around the tree. The Galleria Ice Skating Center traditionally produces an incredible series of weekly ice skating shows that features world and Olympic champions skating along with over 100 youth skaters.  Normally, each show attracts thousands of guests crowded along the rail on all four levels of the center.

We couldn’t do that this year and encourage safe social distancing. So, on December 6, after the center closes we’ll partner with the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center to sell access to family-sized pods along the four levels of the ice rink for a holiday ice skating extravaganza. 100 percent of the proceeds benefit the DCAC, and we’ll be able to maintain the magic for those families who love our Grand Tree Lighting events.

At Trademark Property, we are committed to being the leader in experiential offerings. We have an ongoing series of initiatives that we plan to implement long after the holidays are over. The future of retail engagement requires that we create experiences that move and engage our communities.