Which iconic NYC holiday window gets the most traffic?

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New York City attracts shoppers from all over the world during the holiday season. From the tree in Rockefeller Plaza to the ball drop in Times Square, tourists flock to see the wonders of the city in winter (much to the chagrin of the locals).

Among the biggest attractions are the displays in the windows of the world’s best-known department stores. No expense is spared to dazzle shoppers with vibrant dioramas that may feature traditional holiday themes, or completely extravagant, headline-making creative experiences, such as Bergdorf’s candy and sweets-filled windows this season. As The New York Times writes, “November and December are the biggest months in retail, and the windows help suck customers in, not with product so much as theme. Even for those who can’t make it to the windows, those themes radiate outward, setting the tone for the season: in store, online, in mailers and on all-important social media, a 360-degree wallop of shoppable holiday spirit.”

Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdales, Macy’s, and Saks Fifth Avenue invest untold amounts in these lavish decorations, even unveiling them with extravagant Broadway performances. But do they actually impact the bottom line?

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The short answer is yes – and no. We observed the storefront traffic of all five New York flagship stores, as well as their online advertising campaigns this holiday season. While the storefronts themselves are certainly drawing people through the doors (and even more to simply gawk outside!), the most successful store in our competitive set is strategically marketing online as well.

Store location matters, but strategy helps – a lot

Macy’s drew the most foot traffic of all the stores. This may have a lot to do with its aggressive holiday marketing apart from the windows. Macy’s does own the most famous Thanksgiving Day parade, after all, so the shopping season practically kicks off at the door of its flagship store. Macy’s is also located mere steps away from New York Penn’s Station, making it an easy stop for tourists and commuters alike.

However, Macy’s also is investing in more advertising to drive traffic into its stores, versus its biggest competitor, Bloomingdale’s which is engaging in more awareness-focused campaigns. Macy’s is also promoting more of their in-stock brands and products to invite shoppers through their doors. For example, they’re running ads for Sunglass Hut, which sells glasses within Macy’s locations, whereas Bloomingdale’s is running less specific ads featuring coats, shoes and handbags.

Bloomingdale’s, at 59th Street and Third Avenue isn’t quite as central as Macy’s, but still draws plenty of tourists. In fact, there are twice as many shoppers passing by Macy’s or Bloomingdales just before the holidays than by Bergdorf, Saks or Barney’s combined. (Saks, located on the most picturesque part of fabled Fifth Avenue, draws a fair amount of shoppers, significantly more than Bergdorf or Barney’s and ranks third on our list for foot traffic.) Bloomie’s also features one of the most popular window displays in the city, but the lack of a strong focus in their digital campaigns seems to be holding them back. Between what may be the two busiest storefront displays in the entire country, Macy’s is 74 percent more likely to draw consumers inside than Bloomingdale’s.

You know what also helps? A good sale

Meanwhile, the more niche, upscale Barney’s has upped their window dressing game this season, creating their own tourist attraction. By complimenting their investment with targeted advertising, they’re reaping the benefits too. The department store is promoting a massive seasonal sale via their online ad campaigns, which is resulting in the highest conversion rate we’re seeing this season: Despite having the lowest volume of pedestrians passing by, the store attracts the highest percentage of consumers inside – ten percent – compared to other retailers in our group.

A few lessons for marketers

We love branding ads as much as the next marketer, but in the competitive holiday shopping season, they just don’t carry their weight. Retail marketing pros who want to see ROI this year need to get smart and strategic about enticing customers to come into their stores. Take a page from Macy’s or Barneys, and either partner up or get aggressive with your price cutting – and tell the world about via targeted digital ads.

And of course, best practices in mobile always apply. Target those customers who have been to see your storefront display, as well as those who’ve been to your competitors. Barney’s huge sale could probably pick up a few customers who’ve been to Bergdorf Goodman or Saks Fifth Avenue and are looking for better deals by targeting them with mobile ads for their huge sale. Macy’s may already be maintaining their edge over Bloomingdale’s with similar tactics. Staying in touch with customers who’ve been to the store but didn’t complete a purchase could result in winning the sale online or on mobile.

While the season is nearly at its end, there are lessons here that can be carried through the year. Rumours of the retail’s death have been greatly exaggerated, but stay ahead, retailers have to think beyond branding. Goal-oriented campaigns, executed wisely, will win the day, no matter what the season, where the location, or how fabulous the window display.

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