How To Decorate Your Retail Store For The Holidays [Pics]

Bob Phibbs By
Decorate your store windows for the Holidays

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Decorating a store goes to the heart of what makes great retailing. During these times, it will be the deciding factor to WOW wary shoppers. 

Various seasonal times and holidays can inspire retailers to create magic for their customers. The return of colored lights is anticipated by young and old for a reason, it calms, inspires, and makes us hopeful.

And boy do we need to feel hopeful this coming holiday season!

Also, decorations go far beyond a demonstration of a new skillet or an invitation-only event.

They pique a shopper’s curiosity to discover what is new. 

When you introduce new, yet familiar elements to the shopping experience, you change the energy of your entire store and also encourage impulse buying. We're anxious to find some semblance of normal and hope right now.

Christmas, in particular, offers the chance for your store to make a statement that wonder and magic lie behind your doors. 

Dad could be a hero…

Mom could be a queen...

A brother who never got what he wanted for Christmas could buy his favorite gadget.

An aunt who lives thousands of miles away could purchase a token of her love instead of buying a gift card at the local 7-11.

But if your store looks the same December 10 as it did September 10, that is less likely to happen.

One caveat before I continue, we aren’t talking big budget here.

While Saks and Tiffany’s can afford one-of-a-kind window displays and custom elements that customers can activate with their phones, decorating isn’t about is about creating a different shopping environment.

The more you can decorate, the more energy and excitement you bring to passersby.

Go big, go early, and go to town. This is what I always recommend. This pandemic holiday season, I encourage you to string bright colored lights from building to building, across shop windows and throughout your store.

One eye-catching way I decorated a rustic store was winding colored lights around dried grapevine to make it a visual wonderland overhead as you walked in and through the main aisle.

Well-decorated interiors and windows truly enchant us to come in and experience the feeling of the season and not just be witness to them in passing.

What does it take to prepare your store to wow a smartphone-obsessed, me-centric consumer these days?

Here are the four main elements of holiday retail store decoration:

1. Lights. When you add strings of lights, you add color, you add energy, you add magic. One of the first things I did when I took over a store - and this was during the summer - was to ring the front windows with miniature white lights. It caught interest, it set us apart from stores on either side, and it brightened up the windows. I can't over-stress this point - the more lights throughout your shop, the better.

2. Colors of the season.  Whether it is spring pastels or holiday reds and greens, seasonal colors are temporary.Yes, for a retailer, decorating does take a bit more work and planning ahead as you can't leave autumn leaves through February, but it also aligns the shopping experience you offer with seasonal celebrations.

3. Props that are appropriate help tell a story.  It is easy to think of decor for a national celebration - think a country's flag on Independence Days. While a large Christmas tree or fragile ornaments might be too much of an undertaking, your props can be as simple as putting Santa hats on your mannequins.  At the start of baseball season, you could add gloves, bats, and balls to those same mannequins.

4. Signage that speaks to the season. So many merchants either avoid or forget well-conceived signs. But you need them, so during the holidays, over a mountain bike with helmet, GoPro and night gear, place a sign that says Dad, Be A Hero To Your Daughter. Around the wedding season, place a sign that says Forget The Tea Towels, Give ‘Em An Experience with a complete baking system and five at-home chef lessons, or around Mother’s Day, Make Up For That Broken Window When You Were 8 for any premium product. You get the idea.

Here are some great examples of two retailers who go all out for seasonal and holiday events.

Pufferbellies in Staunton, Virginia is one of my all-time favorite independent stores because they understand how to create wonder, magic and emotion in their holiday decorations - as evidenced in these three Christmastime windows. (photos courtesy of Robbie Lawson)


holiday window displays


toy store-2014


Read the story of how and why they created the magnificent window below here.

how to decorate store for Christmas

Macys Annual Flower show

Macys flower show

macys flower show decoration

Malls too should invest like the Shops At Crystals in Las Vegas did to capture the magic of wonder as shown below

halloween mall displays

What should you go all out to avoid?

  • Clutter. While it's tempting to let customers figure it out, we're in a pandemic. Focus our attention on the best and brightest.

  • Cheap paper or any other dollar store table ornaments. Going cheap signals shoppers you try to cut corners on returns and quality.

  • A picture of an appropriate holiday decoration instead of the decoration itself. Buy the decoration and display accordingly.

  • Old decorations that are torn, worn, or just plain ugly. You want to look new, fresh and inviting. There's vintage and then there's garage sale. If in doubt, throw it out. 

In addition, I always suggest staying clear of any one specific religion to keep your store as welcoming as possible to all.

Yes, it takes some work to create magic but it's a lot more fun than same-old, same-old.

See also, How To Visual Merchandise And Create Killer Windows

In Sum 

There is a reason better merchants pull out all the stops during December – it jolts jaded shoppers into the higher brain area that engages a sense of childlike wonder.

Look at the cost of a full-on decorated retail store as a marketing expense that makes your retail store a destination. A place deserving of a shopper’s time, investment, and curiosity. Deserving of a jaded customer worried about going out into a pandemic fraught world to explore.

When you do it right, you turn shoppers into a volunteer marketing army.

When you go cheap, you stay another also-ran, bland and boring warehouse of goods in search of someone’s money.

But when you use a strategy of preparing for the holidays to make your decorated store fresh, you help make it fun.

And it bears repeating: Use more lights than you think you should!

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