There’s nothing more festive than visiting shopping centres at Christmas. The twinkling lights and beautiful shop fronts, the crowds of Christmas shoppers and the smiling faces of children who have visited Santa.

The festive season is always a busy time, especially for towns and city centres. However, with so many places to shop, towns and city centres have to come up with fun ways to encourage the local community to come and shop with them.

This is where we step in! As an events agency, we are able to come up with brilliant concepts, entertainment and experiences to entice shoppers in, creating a brilliantly festive atmosphere.

2021 has been no exception and with multiple different Christmas shopping centre activations including the Bury Santa Experience for Bury St Edmunds Arc Shopping Centre.


Why Are Christmas Shopping Centre Activations So Important?

There has been an increasing pattern in the decline of footfall in town and city centres over the last couple of years. Footfall over the four weeks from October 31 2021 to November 27 2021 declined 14.5% compared with the same period in 2019, according to footfall experts Springboard.

With Christmas being the busiest time of year for towns and shopping centres it is imperative that local councils and BID schemes come up with solutions to drive traffic.

Over the last 10 years, there has been an increased surge in online shopping. Year on year more people are opting to shop online rather than in-store. Therefore, shopping centres have to come up with ways to get shoppers away from their laptops and into their local shops.

By creating additional events and entertainment, shopping centres are able to create an experiential shopping experience that customers simply won’t get by shopping online.

Dancing elf performer posing in winter wonderland at Christmas shopping centre activation.

Retail at Christmas

On a psychological basis, Christmas and Christmas shopping, in particular, have a lot of positive connotations. Yes, the shops can be busy, however, there are so many positive associations consumers have with shopping over the festive season. Creating an excellent opportunity for companies to entice shoppers in-store.

With all kinds of sensory associations. From aromas of Christmas coffees and bratwurst cooking on festive stalls. To crackling fires and brightly coloured displays and Christmas lights. Shopping centres offer a combination of all of these experiences. Couple this with the fact that the festive season is a time of coming together and celebration, and your local town or city centre becomes the perfect place for consumers to experience all of this and more.

From a marketing point of view, the festive season is one of the best opportunities to get customers to shop. However, it is essential that town centres are one step ahead of the competitors, offering an experience that consumers won’t be able to get elsewhere.

This is where shopping centre activations really come into their own. A reported 74% of shoppers say that entertainment facilities influence their decisions on where to shop. Additionally, a further 90% of shoppers argued that having child-friendly entertainment facilities or places to sit and relax where highly significant when choosing where to visit.

Bury Santa Christmas shopping centre activation

Bury Santa Experieince

So we’ve talked about why shopping centre activations are so important at Christmas time, now let us talk about how we make these Christmas shopping centre activations a success.

Bury St Edmunds approached Julia Charles with the task of transforming their old Topshop unit into an experiential Christmas event for children over the festive season.

The outside of the Bury Santa Experience Christmas shopping centre activation, featuring branding and fairy lights.

Set in the heart of the Arc Shopping Centre, Bury council and the shopping centre wanted to create a unique experience that was more than just visiting Santa. With multiple sections and lots of elements to interact with, we decided to create a three-phase experience to get families into the festive spirit. The last section of this experience being a visit with the big man- Father Christmas himself.

Due to the location of the Bury Santa Experience, families would be able to do their shopping, dining and entertainment all in one place.

Winter Wonderland zone featuring woodland animals, fake snow and draping.

We wanted to incorporate all of the sounds, sights and scents into the Bury Santa Experience, creating a completely immersive and magical event where families could create those precious Christmas memories.

We completely kitted out the old Topshop unit, creating 3 immersive rooms. Some of the services we provided for his Christmas shopping centre activation included


Bury Santa Experience- Immersive Rooms

The Bury Santa Experience is made up of three separate zones:

Winter hare prop and snow covered Christmas tree props used to create winter wonderland zone.

Families are greeted by the head elf who welcomes the children by name into the experience, chatting to them and getting them excited for Christmas.

As the families enter the first section they are greeted by a Narnia inspired winter wonderland. With snow-covered trees and lots of woodland creatures, the children are encouraged to look around and spot all of Oakley Owls woodland friends.

Giant building blocks, gingerbread men, cuddly toys and fake snow used to decorate Santa's workshop for Christmas activation event.
Red post box used for Santa letters at Bury Santa Christmas shopping centre activation.

As they come out of the winter wonderland zone, they are greeted by giant nutcrackers leading into Santa’s toyshop. With a station to write letters to Santa, as well as a toy zone, our friendly and fun elves- Clara and Clive entertain guests. This area also features a giant gingerbread house, toy blocks and cuddly toys creating a fun section for the children to play whilst waiting in anticipation to meet Santa.

When it is time for the families to meet Father Christmas they walk through a Winter Tunnel, pull back the red curtain and enter Santa’s grotto. Dressed with a big fireplace, comfy chairs, toys and gifts, children have the opportunity to speak to Santa and get their picture taken with him before being handed a special gift.

Father Christmas sat in Santas grotto showing children's drawings
Children's letters for Father Christmas from Santa's grotto experience.

Transforming Empty Shopping Units

There’s no getting away from the fact that in many highstreets and town centres across the country there are empty shop spaces. These empty shop spaces are a great opportunity to be re-purposed for shopping centre activations just like the one we created for Bury St Edmunds Bury Santa Experience.

For this event, we did a site visit to see how we could adapt the space. We then went about building temporary structures within the empty shop space to create separate zones for visitors to enjoy. Once the structures were built we created a cosy environment by adding various types of draping and lighting. This helped to completely transform the empty unit into defined spaces.

After we had established the three separate zones and the layout of the unit we then started to decorate. We added a combination of large and small scale props, lots of Christmas trees, fake snow and even created a snow tunnel for guests to walk through before they went to meet Santa.

By using a combination of different venue decorating services we were able to completely transform this empty shopping unit into a magical Christmas wonderland.

Deer, Christmas tree, fake snow and lamp post props used to decorate winter wonderland area.

With the highstreet constantly changing it is really important that town centres adapt to the needs of their shoppers. By re-purposing these spaces towns can increase their footfalls, avoid having empty units and gain publicity through their events. Therefore, leading to more consumers visiting and shopping within the town centre.

These shopping centre events don’t just have to be for Christmas. They also work well in the Summer holidays, Halloween and Easter half terms.

As an event agency, we can work with our clients to create engaging, fun and successful shopping centre attractions.

Santa's grotto, with garlands, Christmas presents and Santa's chair.

Christmas Shopping Centre Activation Success

The Bury Santa Experience is anticipated to bring in an additional 5,000 people into the town centre over the festive season. Furthermore, with over 2,000 children’s tickets selling out in record time, as well as demand for more tickets to be made available, we have been able to create a lot of anticipation and excitement about visiting Bury St Edmunds for Christmas 2021.

If you’re interested in booking us for your Christmas shopping centre activation get in touch with our team to find out more!

Take A Look At The Bury Santa Experience:

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