Top 20 Christmas Retail Displays & Activations

Retail spending has been virtually flat over the past several months – the Australian Bureau of Statistics declared the 0.4 per cent jump in August below expectations – leaving many businesses eager for an uplift from the upcoming holiday season. So, apart from discounting strategies, what can retailers do to stand out in a crowded market?

The holiday shopping season is usually a busy and profitable time of year for retailers, and thanks to experimental design and new trends, 2019 looks to be one of the most exciting years yet. Stores are no longer just a place to sell stuff. They are destinations deserving of a shopper’s time, investment and curiosity so fully utilize the power of effective displays to deliver great customer experience and build connections with your brand.

Let’s look back at some of the best retail displays and brand activations in previous years that spread the holiday spirit and drive sales.


1. Tiffany & Co.’s Christmas Tree & Pop-Up Shop – London, UK

In 2018, Tiffany & Co. installed a larger-than-life Christmas tree in the centre of St Pancreas International in London, decked out in the brand’s signature blue with added festive touches of silver and gold. A 17-foot animatronic robot in matching blue was placed on a ladder next to the tree, whose ‘decorations’ comprised 600 replicas of Tiffany’s famous Eau de Parfum, hand-crafted paper flowers and white, silver and blue baubles. The show-stopping tree was topped by a 4-foot fragrance bottle and the interactive effect was extended by diffusing the brand’s iconic fragrance from the tree. 

2. Kiehl’s Gifting Workshop – Holiday Edition – New York, US

The pop-up consisted of different stations including the Gifting Station, where customers could hand-pick a selection of their favourite Kiehl’s products and choose from a range of boxes and decorations to customise the packages. The Kiehl’s On The Go station enabled shoppers to fill a bag or box with travel-size versions of the brand’s products, offering a 10% discount for customers who purchased four items or more.

3. Skittles’s One-Hour Pop-Up – Toronto, CA

As the clock struck midnight on Christmas morning last year, Skittles cut the ribbon on their exclusive pop-up that lasted only an hour from 23:59 until 00:59. During these 60 minutes, 60 lucky guests received free Skittles-themed gifts while the brand launched their even more exclusive online shop that was active for a short one minute, offering online-only deals and promotions. 

4. PNC Bank’s Gingerbread Branch – Philadelphia, US

PNC Bank went all out for Christmas last year when they rolled out a fully-functioning pop-up branch in the form of a gingerbread house. The project was part of the bank’s yearly Christmas Price Index that shows the average cost of gifts. Needless to say, PNC made history as the first life-size bank constructed out of real gingerbread. The handy work of 12 bakers and pastry chefs using more than 5,000-lbs of gingerbread was required to complete the structure that featured a gingerbread-covered ATM and banisters made out of candy canes. The pop-up’s placement next to a major seasonal skating rink was ideal.

Creative Installations

5. Cocoaland’s Landmark Atrium – Hong Kong

Landmark, a luxury shopping centre in Hong Kong, is known for its over-the-top fashion during the holiday season. Last year, Cocoaland transformed the mall with its ‘Cocoa Monsters’ installation where a live show was performed every 30 minutes to engage shoppers to linger around a bit longer. The mall’s halls were filled with Christmas lights and festive music as the 70+ ‘monsters’ got to work in the on-stage chocolate factory, much to the delight and entertainment of curious audience members. The installation also had exclusive merchandise on sale, of which the proceeds went to Make-A-Wish Hong Kong, a local children’s charity. 

6. Starbucks’s Coffee Cup Tree – London, UK

A few years ago, Starbucks installed a giant Christmas tree in London close to the buzzing King’s Cross station. The tree was constructed out of hundreds of the coffee house’s signature red cups infused with a gingerbread latte scent. The installation was accompanied by an interactive social media campaign that saw the tree increasingly light up as the hashtag #RedCups was used online. A number of digital screens surrounded the tree, displaying thank-you messages to enthusiastic customers participating in the campaign. 

7. Harbour City World’s Largest Kaleidoscope – Tsim Sha Chui, HK

In 2018, the waterfront shopping mall installed a 40m-long Christmas bridge covered in approximately 200,000 LED lights, where visitors wrote wishes or love message on a heart-shaped lock. But the highlight was the secret garden, home to the world’s largest video kaleidoscope at 16m long, 4.5m high with a massive triangle mirror inside. As visitors walked through the rainbow tunnel, they were greeted with Christmas-themed imagery like snowflakes, pine tree and stars via LED screen walls.

8. Fashion Walk Christmas Characters – Causeway Bay, HK

It’s not all about glittering lights and epic installations. For something a little more down-to-Earth – but no less special – Fashion Walk put together in collaboration with local knitting studio La Belle Époque a series of adorable knitted Christmas characters covering the poles and rails along Food Street and Kingston Street. Apparently, the length of all the yarn used is equal to the length of 12 Tsing Ma bridges, making this one of the most Instagrammable Christmas displays in Hong Kong in 2018. 

AR/VR/Technology Experiences

9. Market City’s VR Gaming Experience – New South Wales, AU

Candy Cane Fight inhabited the Market City shopping centre through a custom-built and free virtual reality (VR) gaming experience that was a major hit with both kids and adults. Using the VIVE Pro professional headset with built-in headphones, shoppers and gaming enthusiasts entered a VR winter wonderland, where they must try to defeat a 10-foot snowman across a series of levels to save the holiday season. 

10. Sephora’s AR Pop-Up – France & Italy

Sephora launched their first pop-up entirely focused on augmented reality in locations across Europe last year. Along with the experiential pop-up, the beauty brand introduced their mobile app, Sephora Collection Experience, enabling customers to gain access to a portal and enter a magical world hidden in their hand palms. Shoppers were encouraged to participate in this virtual experience where they could tap bubbles containing brand new products from Sephora’s 2018 Christmas collection to learn more about each item and make purchases. New products were added every week to keep customers coming back. 

11. Samsung’s Life-Size Tablet Piano – London, UK

Samsung came up with a unique way to promote their new Galaxy Tab S2 that hit the market just before Christmas last year. The brand installed a life-size ‘piano’ in London’s Spitalfields market, but with a twist: instead of normal piano keys, the new range of tablets were used to conjure up festive music to capture shoppers’ attention and show how creatively the product can be used. Samsung took the installation a step further and commissioned a professional pianist to work her magic on the ‘piano’ – much to the awe and entertainment of customers in the store. 

12. The Body Shop’s Digital Christmas Countdown – London, UK

In 2018, The Body Shop launched a digital advent calendar to get their loyal customers excited about the approaching holidays. The ’24 Days of Happiness’ campaign comprised an in-store touchscreen with a digital red ribbon where customers could ‘unwrap’ to stand the chance to win exclusive treats. Following the success of this digital experience, the cosmetics brand created a collection of advent calendars set for release this Christmas, each featuring a different selection of beauty, skincare, bath and body products. 

Window Displays

13. Joyce’s Dark Forest – Hong Kong

The fashion retailer, Joyce, looked past the usual upbeat glitz and glam of Christmas decorations and opted for a mystical dark fairy tale theme in their holiday window displays in Hong Kong last year. The edgy displays made for a unique way to lure shoppers in-store, using motifs of well-known fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White to spark interest. The brand collaborated with designers from Erdem, Giambattista Valli and Olympia Le Tan to launch a special collection of capes adding extra flair to their dark holiday campaign.

14. Harrods’ Fantastica – London, UK

In London, Harrods transformed their Knightsbridge location into a visual wonder following the theme ‘Fantastica’. The entire store was drawn into the exhibition with each window representing a different holiday tradition, including the Dolce & Gabbana ‘Leftover Fridge’ installation showcasing the remains of a Christmas feast and a Harrods ‘Oh So Sweet’ display filled with holiday sweet treats. Another window display was dedicated to a Bottega Veneta-themed gift wrapping scene. The magical window displays were extended to outside the store, where an 8-metre high Christmas tree stood tall, decorated with 100+ oversized festive lights.

15. Pret A Manger’s Wrapped Storefront – London, UK

Pret A Manger created a fun concept to introduce their Christmas sandwiches and make hungry customers part of the launching ceremony. In their London location, the retailer turned the entire storefront into a massive ‘gift’ that was to be unwrapped by the public. The red ‘wrapping paper’ matched the red packaging used for the new sandwiches. Shoppers passing the store were immediately intrigued by the unusual sight and it didn’t take long for them to realise the installation involved a free festive lunch, quickly prompting them to participate in tearing the wrapping paper down to access the gift of the sandwich that awaited inside. Not only a super creative display, but also a thoughtful campaign as the brand donated to charities supporting homeless people in the city for every sandwich sold. 

16. Fendi’s Hypnoteyes – Hong Kong, China

Fendi is another fashion brand who decided to take a less explored approach to their holiday displays. In their Canton Road location, the window displays showcased the abstract ‘Hypnoteyes’ fashion range through gremlin-like creatures peeking at customers as they walk past the store. Shoppers were intrigued by the offbeat Christmas decorations and found the displays continued inside with a Hypnoteyes ‘world’ putting more spotlight on the unique collection of bags and accessories. Two ‘Peekaboo’ and ‘Dotcom’ bags were staged inside an enormous glittering Christmas ball, making the connection with the holiday season and encouraging shoppers to purchase the products for Christmas gifts. 

Interactive Experiences

17. Bloomingdale’s Grinch Experience – New York, US

Riding on the buzz of the remake of ‘The Grinch’ in 2018, Bloomingdale’s created an interactive experience in their New York store that made for quite the trip down memory lane for many shoppers who remember the iconic Christmas film from their childhoods. Greeted again by the green character and his dog, Max, customers were entertained by a Grinch-themed karaoke station, outdoor music and a selfie-camera. In the first window, shoppers were invited to take a photo next to a giant display of the Grinch, and moving on to another window, customers could play around with music buttons igniting sounds from an organ prop – also a reference to the movie.

18. Galeries Lafayette’s Interactive secret area – Paris, FR

The famous Galeries Lafayette in Paris has a holiday tradition that dates back to 1912 when they started illuminating their storefront for special events. Today, shoppers wait in anticipation for the splendid Christmas displays conjured up every year as designers and creatives all over the city are involved in the creation process. In 2018, the French actress Léa Seydoux and actor André Dussollier from the ‘La Belle & La Bête’ (Beauty and the Beast) movie, were enlisted to unveil the Christmas display that featured different scenes from the movie. The interactive experience invited shoppers into the secret dungeons of the ‘beast’ while another 12 animated window displays entertained visitors through visual storytelling. 

19. Coca Cola’s #WrappedWithLove Campaign – Ireland

Coca-Cola Ireland’s very first pop-up in 2017, #WrappedwithLove, featured a Christmas gif photo booth where thousands of visitors created personalised wrapping paper using their own photos as decoration. Guests could also enjoy virtual reality sleigh rides, a Christmas cafe, DJ, animated Christmas windows and limited edition Coca-Cola merchandise.

20. Hallmark’s Greeting Card Trucks – Canada

As the festive season creeps closer, shoppers are automatically drawn towards Hallmark’s Christmas card section. But the store decided to do things differently with a campaign that allowed them to reach customers in a creative way by taking Christmas to them: a festive holiday truck that succeeded in sending over 1 000 greeting cards across Canada last year. Through this initiative, Hallmark wanted people to rediscover the emotional meaning behind sending and receiving a personalised holiday card. The campaign fared particularly well among the younger customers, who aren’t as accustomed to sending physical cards in the digital age.

Whether it’s at a shopping centre, airport, event, store, or even a busy intersection, Christmas pop ups are a great way to promote your brand values and share a festive experience with your customers.

Time is ticking, but there’s still an opportunity to plan and execute a Christmas strategy for 2019.

X-Factor Displays is renowned for its quality, innovation and speed to market capabilities so feel free to reach out to me via LinkedIn or e-mail and let’s have a chat.

What are your thoughts on Christmas activations?

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