Cashing in on Santa

The commercialization of Christmas is reaching ever new heights as retailers and marketers continue to try to cash in on Santa. From movies to music this has always been the case but the presence of Santa in the marketplace has usually been utilized as a draw — bring in Santa for the kids and the parents will come along to spend money. That used to be the conventional thinking. But now they are starting to charge access to Santa himself — and that has people outraged.

A Chicago-area mall is under fire this Christmas season for charging a $10 non-refundable appointment fee to Santa. The move has shoppers outraged.

This is a growing trend in upscale urban shopping malls that simply do not have the capacity to house lines of children and families to see Santa. The charge is a way to get away from utilizing valuable selling space. Malls in suburban San Francisco, Atlanta, Dallas, Washington DC and other areas have gone this direction the past few years.

But for some malls, they are taking it to the next level this year and looking for Santa to be a real revenue generator. Dubbed “Adventure To Santa” some malls are marketing a “one-of-a-kind” Santa experience that not only requires an appointment but a prepaid fee upwards of $75 for some photo packages. The “experience” is akin to a thrill ride, featuring a 4D virtual reality sleigh ride with Santa.

Cashing in on Santa is not a new idea. The Internet is flush with “Santa letter” services that offer personalized contact between Kringle and Child. Because just about anyone can offer such a service your mileage will definitely vary based on provider. With letters starting at $5 and selling for upwards of $50 with all the frills the business has become big business.

What can a parent do who just wants a little traditional one and one time with Santa and maybe a quick photo?

We suggest the following:

— Look for events hosted by communities or churches. Frequently the Santa experience in these venues is free and of a less rushed, high quality than in a commercial environment.

— Ask for referrals. Talk around, parents are quick to share a great Santa and eager to steer folks away from a sour Santa

— Talk to Santa alone. A lot of folks, regardless of the venue, fail to recognize this is an option. Many Santas are there just for the kids and aren’t part of the selling effort. They can and usually will advise the best time to come and even how to prepare your young child for a visit to ensure a good experience.

— Try to find Santa away from a store or a shopping center. In defense of those places, Santa is an expense and he represents a sizable investment. In all fairness, that money has to provide them a return.

— Be very choosy about your Santa experience online. Scout out websites and use them before you let your child see them. Of course, we will advise you to visit our Santa venues ahead of others because they are completely commercial and revenue-free. They are designed for the entertainment of children and families while protecting your privacy and avoiding any direct contact with children online by anyone.

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