Zoom Santas are back and eager as ever
The CEO of collectibles e-commerce company hobbyDB, Christian Braun, shared his excitement about a recent customer addition during a recent Zoom meeting with his marketing team. “Nick, I’ll hand over the reins to you.”
St. Nick, in fact, is in the picture. As soon as Santa entered the virtual room, he rang a bell, causing the energy level of the meeting to rise by at least 100 notches, bringing everyone’s spirits to an all-time high. Thrillingly, he exclaimed, “I require the assistance of the customer service department.” “I’d like to file a serious complaint!” says the complainant.
When it comes to holiday meetings and family calls, this Santa Claus is one of several actors hired by a new service called SantaZoomBomb.com who have Zoombombed their way into meetings and family calls throughout the season. For $59, a Santa will join a conference call without prior notice, teasing colleagues with awkward inside jokes and references to relevant projects or work assignments that are relevant to the conversation. Several weeks before the meeting, participants fill out a questionnaire that provides Santa with specifics and discussion topics to consider. Additionally, customers can specify whether Santa should be naughty or nice by checking the appropriate box.
At times, the response is ambiguous or non-responsive. Everyone at HobbyDB joined in on the laughter and generally went along with the jokes. While on the other hand, when Santa unexpectedly appeared during a CNN Business team meeting wearing an Oculus headset and cracked jokes about current events and some of the participants on the call, the reactions on Slack ranged from groans to “WHAT IS HAPPENING?”
Santa Bombing builds on the meteoric success of the previous year by offering virtual Santa visits. As was the case with the meteoric rise of curbside dining options and Zoom itself, the sudden popularity of Zoom Santas was a response to a widespread need. In the wake of a Covid outbreak, it provided families with a safer alternative to the annual tradition of visiting Santa Claus at a mall, and it provided actors with an opportunity to earn a paycheck for Santa work during the holidays — in some cases significantly more than they would have earned working with an IRL Santa.
But as we approach the second holiday season following the outbreak, there are signs that demand for the virtual North Pole is waning. Despite the fact that interest in virtual Santa visits is still high this year, Mitch Allen, founder of HireSanta.com, a leading staffing company for Santas in the United States, stated that interest in virtual Santa visits is significantly lower than it was in 2020.
The number of virtual visits performed last year was in the tens of thousands, but this year’s figures are down by approximately 60% to 70%, according to the CEO. “The public is eager to return to the streets to see Santa and to reunite with friends and family members they have lost touch with. They are attempting to make up for the time they have been absent.”
However, some Zoom Santas are hoping to keep the virtual holiday magic going for at least another season, if not longer. Furthermore, some services are actively pursuing new avenues in order to achieve that objective.
Keeping the virtual holiday magic going
Don White, 80, and Mary Rogers, 74, dress up as Mr. and Mrs. Claus and visit restaurants, museums, fundraisers, and events throughout Kansas City, Missouri, including the Kansas City Royals baseball team’s holiday festival. Don White and Mary Rogers are married and have two children. Although the couple began offering Zoom calls through their website VisitFromtheClauses.com last year, their annual revenue more than quadrupled from the previous year as a result.
During 2020, the couple, who met on Match.com 14 years ago, spent up to nine hours a day making video calls to children and their families all over the country, because parents were desperate for entertainment and activities for their children. Because of the high volume of work, Rogers explains, “people brought us food.” “We weren’t even able to leave the house.”
Because of health concerns, they have decided to go with the virtual option indefinitely instead. (White was recently diagnosed with leukemia, which he underwent treatment for earlier this year.) In order to fill virtual visit reservations while the couple is operating at approximately 60% capacity due to personal obligations, they have hired a few actors. Meanwhile, Josh Rogers, Rogers’ son, launched SantaZoomBomb.com as a complementary service this year in an attempt to cash in on the company’s growing popularity.
In regards to their Zoom Santa work, White explained that “this way, we can earn more money and complete more visits.” Ten-minute private conversations with Mr. or Mrs. Claus cost between $49 and $89 per person.
Trotz the apparent decline in demand this year, Allen believes that virtual Santa visits will become a permanent fixture for some families who prefer to avoid long lines or prefer more personalized interactions with the jolly old man in red. Prior to Zoom calls, virtual Santas are frequently provided with talking points in order to make the calls more intimate for the participants.
At the same time, the demand for Santa Claus appearances at parties, parades, and other events has increased significantly this holiday season, despite a decrease in the number of trained and available Santas during the same time period. Certain Santas are apprehensive about making in-person visits at the present time. According to Allen, approximately 350 Santas who worked for HireSanta.com have died in the last 18 months as a result of Covid-19 or other health problems, while others have decided to hang up their red suit and retire from the holiday season. The number of people enrolling in Santa training schools in the United States decreased this year as well.
Zoom Santas 2.0
In spite of the fact that some businesses, such as HireSanta.com, have been providing virtual Santa visits for nearly eight years, many others are looking to refresh the concept in order to keep demand high for another year.
Some businesses, in a similar vein to Santa Zoom Bombing, are increasing the level of interaction with customers. Participants will be transported to the North Pole by sleigh ride with a live Santa, and they will receive a photo of the experience as part of T-free Mobile’s Stream-A-Long service. Others, such as The Santa’s Club, send letters and gifts to children after they have made virtual visits to their homes.
As Allen pointed out, “it’s a trend that we’ll likely see more of in the future.” “Certain retailers, such as Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, offer activities such as crafts and other activities to keep you occupied while you wait in line. Businesses that provide virtual Santa services are following in their footsteps.”
Additional to this, in-person Santas have become more inventive with their setups in order to comply with local mask and social distancing regulations. Some mall operators have set up benches, snowglobes, and other scenes to keep children off their laps, such as at Macy’s Santaland in Herald Square, where Santa Claus wears a mask and works behind a desk.
Virtual visits may, however, continue to be the preferred method of seeing Santa for some families this year, given the high rate of unvaccinated children under the age of five in the United States.
In Rogers’ words, “many families are unable to return in person to see Santa because of their religious beliefs.” “It is stated that they are unsure of who this individual is. I am unable to place my newborn baby on Santa’s lap, and I am hoping that no one becomes ill as a result of my decision.'”