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Upper Surrey Canada Mall Restaurants

The rules for staying in Santa’s good books – you’d better not pout, or cry – can be difficult for kids to obey diligently. And it’s especially hard to be good, for goodness’ sake, when waiting in an interminable lineup in a noisy mall to see the man himself.

Now, as brick-and-mortar malls face ever-greater competition from the speed and ease of online shopping, mall owners are attempting to make that experience a little more pleasant for harried families during the holidays. It’s not just about Santa’s Village – malls are working year-round to revamp the entire shopping experience, with improvements to food courts, mobile phone-charging stations, valet parking and multimillion-dollar facelifts – all to convince people to make the trip out to shop, rather than simply clicking over to Amazon or other online options.

And the holiday period – the most crucial part of the calendar for retailers, and the most stressful for shoppers – is a particularly important season for malls to get their marketing right. Santa is a big part of the marketing mix.

“To wait in line for hours to spend three minutes with Santa, when there’s a 50-50 chance that at the end of the wait a child is going to be crying when he sits on Santa’s lap, it takes away from the experience, ” said Jason Anderson, senior vice-president of marketing at mall owner Cadillac Fairview Corp. “Santa in a mall has existed for decades, but it hasn’t evolved much.”

Cadillac Fairview began experimenting last year with allowing shoppers to prebook their Santa visit to skip the line at four of its malls, and this year it expanded that to 10 of its 20 shopping centre properties across Canada, including Richmond Centre in B.C., and Eaton Centre in Toronto. Oxford Properties Group Inc. has also begun offering a Santa “FastPass” to book online at centres including Upper Canada Mall in Newmarket, Ont., and Scarborough Town Centre in Toronto. At Yorkdale Shopping Centre – a high-end mall in Toronto – just like at a trendy downtown restaurant, shoppers can check in with an elf hostess and receive a text message when their time with Santa is approaching.

“You know what it’s like. You’ve only got so much time, and if you’ve got small children, there’s a time when they are just done.We’d rather have those families out shopping, and they’d rather be doing something other than waiting in a lineup, ” said John Giddings, Oxford’s vice-president of retail.

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