Santa goes hi-tech


December 08, 2016
In this Monday, November 21 photo, Sophie Golding, checks Santa's route at Santa's Flight Academy in Great Lakes Crossing Outlets in Auburn Hills, Michigan. In an effort to lure online shoppers to their stores, many malls are upgrading the traditional visit to Santa into a high-tech experience. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Santa Roger Edmonds talks with kids at the Santa HQ at the Chandler Mall, in Chandler, Arizona.(AP Photo/Matt York)


Hop on a virtual sleigh ride to the North Pole or stand on the 'Naughty or Nice O'Meter'.

Along with snapping a selfie and seeing your face on a dancing elf, the Santa experience has gotten a makeover as many malls install shows and games they hope will lure shoppers who are buying more online.

About 40 malls in the US and one in London have the high-tech Santa displays, most of them located near major cities that tend to house pricier stores.

Taking photos on Santa's lap costs about $30 and up, around the same as at other malls, but most of the malls say people can walk through without purchasing anything.

Malls are hoping the over-the-top Santa visits remind people what brick-and-mortar stores can offer.

They're increasingly trying to offer special experiences as they compete with online rivals, says Howard Davidowitz, chairman of New York-based retail consulting group Davidowitz & Associates.

Santa's Flight Academy was developed by mall operator Taubman Centers Inc, which spent two years on the idea.

After testing it last year at The Mall of San Juan in Puerto Rico, the company rolled it out to 11 other Taubman malls this year, replacing a low-tech ice palace that had housed Santa for years.

Guy Perry, a manager of a Disney Store at Taubman's Westfarms mall in West Hartford, Connecticut, credited this year's "great" store traffic to Santa's Flight Academy.

An old-school Santa display got the boot at Queens Center in New York as the mall this year installed Santa HQ, a set sponsored by cable TV channel HGTV.

As kids stand on the 'Naughty or Nice O'Meter', they can watch their names pop up on Santa's 'Nice List' screen.

In another room, they can take a selfie and see themselves as dancing elves.

In the last room, they're handed tablets that use augmented-reality technology to make it appear as if cartoon elves are popping out of the walls and packing gifts.

The entire set and trees put on a light show every 20 minutes that is synchronised with holiday music.

Quite a difference from last year's Santa setup: A couch and some Christmas trees.

"It's Santa meets 21st-century technology," says John Scaturro, a marketing manager for the mall.