The Tradition of Holiday Store Window Displays

In the late 1800s, shops all across the country started installing large glass windows in the front of their stores. This is mostly due to the sudden widespread availability of plate glass during the Industrial Revolution. It allowed shop owners to inexpensively install large windows to display their merchandise. Thus, the concept of ’window shopping’ began.

In the early 1880s, Macy’s Department store decided to use their store window display to put on a show. Their display featured a mechanical Santa pulled by reindeer. This quickly drew the attention of customers and newspapers from all over which meant free and increased advertisement for their store.

But it wasn’t for nearly another 35 years, and into the early 1900’s that the competition truly ramped up for grabbing the attention of customers among the large retailer stores. The big boom of window shopping was especially intensified in four major cities in the United States –– New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Chicago.

Over time, holiday display window displays became increasingly more colorful and creative and store owners learned how to better use window displays to encourage window shoppers to come into their stores.

By 1914, the Saks Fifth Avenue store in New York was grabbing a lot of attention with their display window. They created a new smart marketing technique of turning the opening day of their window display into an event that they called “ window unveiling”. This event carries on to this day and is now able to be live-streamed on their website drawing in even more customers from around the world.

Once the 1930s rolled around, store mannequins were becoming more popular and making their way into storefront windows as well. During this time period, Lord & Taylor tried their hand at big eye-catching window displays, ditching the traditional practice of using only store merchandise and instead using a decorative display of holiday bells that swung in unison with the sounds of recorded bells. This worked well in their favor, drawing customers who enjoyed their display inside to see more. 

Despite the rise of internet holiday shopping, many people still find the idea of window shopping charming, so much so that many major cities host holiday walking tours of their best window shop displays for out of town guests.

Your small business can easily take part in this joyful and eye-catching tradition by creating a fun and interesting display. Use a mix of key items that your customers will come back to see year after year  — such as a holiday train display and sprinkle in a mix of your new holiday merchandise and signage.


You can up the wow factor each year by adding in new lights, ornaments, or other holiday decorations. A touch of whimsy, such as a dancing toy Santa, a mini spinning Christmas tree, holiday music, a silly snowman, or multicolored lights that blink in unison with your holiday music are all sure-fire ways to get children and their parents hyped about your holiday display. And be sure to include some hanging lights or snowflakes for that extra pop!

Using opaque window cling displays is a smart way to show your customers information about your business while also allowing them to see through to your holiday display.

Including themed banners and flags on the outside of your business with well known holiday images such as Santa, trains, bells, or Christmas trees will draw attention to your store-front window, letting passersby know that there is something exciting to stop and look at.

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