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2023 Holiday Space Planning Trends: A Closer Look

November 30, 2023
By Mike Wilkening, ARC Communications Manager

With the holidays upon us, the Space Planning Community visited major Chicago metro retailers in the big-box and home improvement channels to capture the trends and themes at shelf this season. Visits were generally made at night, and the stores selected were located relatively close to one another, about 20-25 miles northwest of Chicago. All square footage calculations are estimates.

Walmart

Source: Walmart, 930 Mount Prospect Plz., Mount Prospect, Ill. 60056 

Approximate Sq. Ft. Devoted to Holiday: 3,000, with a considerable amount of other space for holiday apparel and “Black Friday” gifts throughout the store.

Where Holiday Merchandise Located: The majority is in the seasonal section, in the southwest corner of the store. There is also gift wrap and other holiday essentials in red boxes beyond the check-out lines, giving shoppers one more chance to buy essentials.

What We Noticed: When we visited before Thanksgiving, the “Black Friday” deals were already appearing in the aisle outside the seasonal section, encouraging shoppers to get an early start to the shopping.

Where Walmart Shines: For staples like holiday cards and packaging, or another string of lights, it is hard to beat Walmart from pricing, assortment, and findability standpoints. Head to the seasonal section, and you will find all of it there, with an eye-opening number of choices, given the physical shelf space. Every square inch is maximized here. 

What We Bought: One holiday-themed cardinal ornament; two packages of red, green, and white tissue paper.

Target

Source: Target, 1700 E. Rand Rd., Arlington Heights, Ill.

Approximate Sq. Ft. Devoted to Holiday: 4,500.

Where Holiday Merchandise Located: The majority is in the seasonal section, in the southeast corner in the back of the store. The space used is similar to past years, according to store staff.

What We Noticed: With seasonal located right next to the toys, shoppers with little ones can complete a good deal of shopping in an efficient manner.

Where Target Shines: Target packs a wide range of holiday merchandise into its space without feeling cramped. The center of the seasonal section is neatly arranged, and the store smartly puts wrapping supplies along the back wall. It’s easy to imagine shoppers going down the line and filling their carts.

What We Bought: Two candy canes, one filled with gummy bears, one filled with Mike & Ike’s; one Santa hat, at the behest of our three-year-old daughter; and a bottle of wine for a “Friendsgiving” party. 

Meijer

Source: Meijer, 1301 Meijer Dr., Rolling Meadows, Ill. 60008

Approximate Sq. Ft. Devoted to Holiday: 7,000.

Where Holiday Merchandise Located: Look for the seasonal section toward the back of the west portion of the store in this massive, 220,000-sq.-ft. location. 

What We Noticed: Meijer dedicates a portion of an aisle to items for stockings, with wire baskets full of candy and other knick-knacks. It’s placed near the entrance of the section, and we didn’t notice it until readying to leave. We get the sense more than a few shoppers will be doubling-back to hit this aisle and take care of the stocking shopping in one fell swoop. 

Where Meijer Shines: This was easily the biggest seasonal section we visited in our seven store trips, and the spaciousness helps encourage browsing. This is a store experience best enjoyed with some time to take everything in, especially if shopping for kids, as there is a huge toy section adjacent to the holiday supplies. Bright seasonal displays from manufacturers were found throughout the store, adding to the holiday feel. Finally, Meijer also shines in the decorations department, too, with plenty of tree, light, and ornament choices. A shopper with a plan and some time could knock a lot of the holiday shopping in one trip to Meijer.

What We Bought: A Lego advent calendar and three boxes of Jiffy corn muffin mix. (We were given a shopping list for this trip.)

Costco 

Source: Costco, 999 N Elmhurst Rd., Mt. Prospect, Ill. 60056

Approximate Sq. Ft. Devoted to Holiday: 3,000. This is about the same as in past years, per store personnel.

Where Holiday Merchandise Located: Most holiday merchandise is located in the front-center of the store, in the seasonal section. As shoppers enter, they take a forced path that dog-legs left, and once they make the turn, they are greeted with holiday decorations: trees, lights, wreaths. There are five aisles dedicated to seasonal at the front of the store. For holiday foods and drink, head toward the back of the store, where there are two aisles of goodies.

What We Noticed: None of our store visits evoked more a holiday-party feel than Costco. It starts immediately the trees and the lights, with rows of toys right behind the seasonal section. By the time you make it to the back, you’re noticing the adjacencies everywhere, such as a rack of party dresses right next to cases of sparkling wine.

Where Costco Shines: You can complete much of your holiday shopping at Costco, from decorations to gifts to wrapping paper and bows. The retailer also features numerous unique holiday gift samplers, too, such as a selection of 24 German beers not regularly found in U.S. stores.What We Bought: A four-pound bag of holiday Hershey’s Kisses.

Sam’s Club

Source: Sam’s Club, 101 W. Oakton St., Des Plaines, Ill. 60018

Approximate Sq. Ft. Devoted to Holiday: 1,500. 

Where Holiday Merchandise Located: You will find most items across a couple full-but-spacious aisles at the front-center-right of the store, about 100 feet from the entrance.

What We Noticed: There are some excellent inflatables and lawn ornaments on offer, including a Grinch-themed inflatable and a six-foot Nutcracker.

Where Sam’s Club Shines: Sam’s Club is ideal for a shopper on the go. The aisles are 30 feet long, and packaging, wrapping paper and the other staples are all present. As with other stores, toys are close by, too. If you want to shop quickly — or if you don’t like huge layouts with a lot of looking around — then Sam’s Club will suit all of your needs, and then some, with an impressive amount of items in a manageable-to-navigate space.

What We Bought: We didn’t buy anything this time, but we will back before the season is over to buy gift cards. Sam’s Club has the best selection and prices we’ve seen. If you’re looking to fill stockings or buy for your children’s teachers, Sam’s comes strongly recommended.

Home Depot

Source: Home Depot, 350 E Kensington Rd., Mount Prospect, Ill. 60056

Approximate Sq. Ft. Devoted to Holiday: 3,000.

Where Holiday Merchandise Located: Northwest corner of the store, near the north wall, with trees and related items in the Garden Center. 

What We Noticed: When we visited this location, Christmas trees were set to arrive the next day. When we drove by this location on Black Friday, the Garden Center was filled with shoppers, and the parking lot was getting full at mid-morning. We’ll definitely get back here soon on a weekend morning to get the full December holiday vibe.

Where Home Depot Shines: If you’re looking to take your holiday decorating to the next level, Home Depot is on your short list of stops, and you may well get everything you need here — as well as plenty of items that pull at your heartstrings. For the moment, we’ve resisted the urge to buy the holiday-themed Yoda, or a reindeer with lights. But it hasn’t been easy.

What We Bought: Clamps to affix holiday lights to rain gutters (100 count). The head defeated the heart — this time. But we do like the idea of reindeer in the front yard.

Lowe’s

Source: Lowe’s, 990 West Algonquin Rd., Arlington Heights, Ill. 60005

Approximate Sq. Ft. Devoted to Holiday: 4,200.

Where Holiday Merchandise Located: Head to the east corner of the store, where you’ll immediately see lights, trees, and inflatables. The section also backs up to the Garden Center, which features live trees and wreaths, as well as a host of other decorations. 

What We Noticed: Rows of bins of specially priced tools — perfect grab-and-go stocking stuffers or extra little gifts. This is a wonderful touch.

Where Lowe’s Shines: The Garden Center is warm and welcoming, with rows of trees to peruse. It’s There’s also a lovely fireplace motif at the front, which adds to the glow — and also gives shoppers an opportunity to envision how a tree might look in a similar space.

What We Bought: A 10-pack of red carpenter pencils and a sharpener. When you’re taking plenty of notes, you need writing reinforcements. But there is a lot to like here, and we’ll be back. 

About the Author: Mike Wilkening, Communications Manager, for the Association of Retail and Consumer Professionals (ARC).

Mike brings more than two decades of communications experience to the CMA/SIMA. He began his career in journalism, spending more than 10 years covering the National Football League for Pro Football Weekly and NBC’s Pro Football Talk. His bylines have also appeared in CBS MarketWatch, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, NBC New York, and ESPN.com. More recently, he has pivoted to corporate communications, including strategy and messaging experience for a Fortune 500 company. Mike holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Illinois.

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