Lonely Planet Writer

Holiday windows make New York sparkle

Luxury goods retailer Bergdorf Goodman has upped the ante for extravagance in this year’s instalment of the window display wars.

Bergdorf Goodman's Christmas window displays prove popular.
Bergdorf Goodman’s Christmas window displays prove popular. Image by Phil Roeder / CC BY 2.0

The retailer’s flagship store on Fifth Avenue has teamed with Austrian glass manufacturer Swarowski to set seven million crystals into its display – by hand. New York City’s department store holiday window display extravaganza is an annual tradition. While Christmas decorations are serious business for department stores all over the world, New York’s position as a leading retail destination and business hub takes the Yuletide-themed window display to another level.

Stores attempt to outdo each other for glitz and pageantry. For the launch of its window display, Lord & Taylor hired teen idol Austin Mahone to sing his hit ‘Mmmm Yeah’ – last year it was Nick Jonas on the podium. And Saks Fifth Avenue’s windows feature six wonders of the world under snow, with the seventh, a blue-and-white Winter Palace, illuminated in lights across the store’s façade.

Barney's at Christmas.
Barney’s at Christmas. Image by Stacey Huggins / CC BY 2.0

The holiday displays, crucial to build foot traffic and customer goodwill at the most profitable time of year, are all in place before Thanksgiving. Some of them have been under preparation for more than a year, and there are design firms who specialise in them. It’s a tradition that stretches back to the 1870s, when R.H. Macy began decorating its window displays in its original location on 14th Street.

The last two months of the year account for up to a quarter of annual sales, according to MasterCard SpendingPulse. A single day can make a big difference: retail sales in 2014 were up 5.5% over 2013 because of one extra holiday in that season, the organisation reported. The retail sales monitoring service says the day after Thanksgiving – Black Friday, so-called because it’s when ledgers supposedly move out of the red and into the black – is still the biggest retail day of the year. But the last Saturday before Christmas is almost as busy. It forecasts a 4% increase this year, with the average consumer expected to spend a little over US$800, adding up to US$630 billion for the two-month period.

Here’s a review of this year’s spectacular windows, and if you’d like to take a tour of the major window displays, here’s a map.