Santa Claus performers that famously appear in shopping malls across the country have taken to appearing via video chat services as more consumers shop online than in stores.
The Washington Post reports that Santa Claus performers across the country have begun turning to the internet to offer their services as the number of people shopping online increases each year. Some shopping mall Santas have begun doing video chats with children that aren’t able to make it to their local store to see Old Saint Nick. Ali Schultz, a mother interviewed by the Washington Post said, “To be honest, I feel kind of bad sometimes because we’ve never taken them to the mall to see Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny,” said Schultz. “But it’s an all-around pain. I just can’t bring myself to do it.”
Stephanie Cegielski, a spokeswoman for the International Council of Shopping Centers discussed how the role of Santa Claus has changed at the average shopping mall over the years, “The role of Santa, especially in the last five years, has really evolved. It’s no longer enough to just have Santa sitting next to a Christmas tree in the middle of the mall.” Ed Taylor, a Los Angeles-based Santa who has been working as Father Christmas during the holiday season for the past 15 years has begun taking part in video and voice chats with children eager to meet Santa Claus, “People aren’t shopping at the malls much anymore — they’re shopping on devices. Now they’re connecting with Santa on their devices, too.” Talor also runs an online school for those training to be Santa.
Taylor’s home office has been decorated to look just like Santa’s workshop, he then sits in front of a webcam and waits for his young clients to call in. Taylor charges a flat fee for video calls between $25 and $50 depending on how many children he’ll be speaking with and how close to Christmas it is. Taylor makes the conversations with the children more believable by having their parents provide him with their interests, Christmas wishes and names. “Demand for video calls is at an all-time high,” Taylor said. “That part of the business was not nearly as popular 10 or 15 years ago when malls were in their heyday, but it’s exploding now. It’s one of those things that’s shifting as lifestyles change.”
In-person visits from Taylor cost $250 for a half-hour and he has appeared at corporate events for Facebook and Pinterest and even been hired to attend private parties for Ellen DeGeneres, Jimmy Kimmel, and the Los Angeles Lakers. In recent times, apps for children to connect with Santa have appeared on mobile devices, some offer two way video calling while others such as the Video Santa app just play a pre-recorded message from Santa, “We’ve called Santa six or seven times this month, and every time they’re so, so excited,” said Ali Schultz. “Why would I pay $20 for a photo at the mall when I can do this for free?”
Ed Taylor now has more than 1,900 students in his online Santa Claus schoolcalled the Santa Claus Conservatory. Taylor has now started adding courses focusing on social media, storytelling and even sign language, “A lot of it is professional development type stuff for Santa,” said Taylor. “How do you market yourself? What can you do on Facebook and Instagram to get more bookings? How do you make a website?” Taylor noted, “Demand is at an all-time high. Santa’s got to keep up with the times.”