Will retailers be treated to a record-setting Halloween?

Photo: Getty Images
Sep 23, 2016
George Anderson

This Halloween promises to be scary good for retailers, according to research conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics for the National Retail Federation (NRF). Total spending for the holiday will reach $8.4 billion, the highest ever in the history of the annual survey.

More than 171 million Americans are planning to celebrate Halloween with the average consumer spending $82.93, up from $74.34 in 2015.

“After a long summer, families are excited to welcome the fall season celebrating Halloween,” said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of NRF, in a statement. “Retailers are preparing for the day by offering a wide variety of options in costumes, decorations and candy, while being aggressive with their promotions to capture the most out of this shopping event.”

Discount stores are the top choice for consumers shopping for the holiday with 47 percent planning to visit. Specialty Halloween/costume stores were next at 36 percent (up from 33 percent in 2015). Supermarkets (26 percent), department stores (23 percent) and online (22 percent) were also listed as destinations.

The usual suspects top the list of items that consumers plan to buy for the holiday including costumes ($3.1 billion), candy ($2.5 billion) and greeting cards ($390 million).

Costume shopping has become a social media event in recent years. According to the survey, social media is the fastest growing place consumers go in search of the right costume(s). While online (35 percent) and in-store (29 percent) still lead as sources of inspiration, 17 percent said they would check out Pinterest this year, a 133 percent increase since 2012, while a like percentage said they would go to Facebook.

While consumers may wait until the eleventh hour to shop for other holidays, the same isn’t true of Halloween, according to the survey’s results.

“Consumers are eager to celebrate Halloween, especially given that eight in 10 Americans will shop by mid-October. That is the highest we have seen in the survey history,” said Pam Goodfellow, principal analyst at Prosper Insights & Analytics. “Americans will enjoy taking advantage of early-bird promotions both online and in-store as they kick off the fall season.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How do you explain the growing popularity of Halloween? What are the marketing keys for retailers looking to fully take advantage of the Halloween business opportunity? Do you see social media, as one example, taking a bigger role in retailer marketing efforts?

"Halloween was a kid's holiday when I was a kid. Today it's an adult holiday."
"Halloween gives shoppers the chance to celebrate their individual creativity and is truly a DIY holiday."
"The thing about Halloween is it has no family “charge” around it like Thanksgiving and no gift giving to drain the wallet..."

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9 Comments on "Will retailers be treated to a record-setting Halloween?"

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Gene Detroyer

No stats here. Just observation. Halloween was a kid’s holiday when I was a kid. Today it’s an adult holiday. IN NYC, on Halloween night or the weekend around Halloween, the streets are filled with costumed adults either celebrating in bars/restaurants (often with prizes for the best costume) or going to/coming from a party.

In our building the adults who accompany their kids are often costumed themselves.

Tom Dougherty

The effects of social media are often overblown, but it has made Halloween an event for just about every demographic. Those teens who you believed were much too old to come ringing your doorbell now actually wear costumes to share on their social media platforms.

I also wonder if the tremendous heat we’ve experienced all over the country has given some of those in the study a little cabin fever. Even I’m thinking of venturing out with my grandchildren.

Mark Ryski

Anything that drives traffic into stores and malls is good and Halloween certainly does that. For retailers who offer products directly related to the Halloween occasion, review last year’s traffic trends, adjust staff levels and scheduling to ensure that they are aligned with the expected traffic volume and focus on quick transaction processing — don’t give customers a reason to leave without buying. For retailers less directly in the Halloween category, find a Halloween angle to encourage the predisposed Halloween shoppers to visit your stores. Halloween creates traffic. Traffic creates opportunities, but it’s what retailers do with the traffic that matters most.

Paula Rosenblum

I was in the party supply business when Halloween really started taking off.

The thing about Halloween is it has no family “charge” around it like Thanksgiving and no gift giving to drain the wallet, so for about $100 you can have a fabulous time.

I will say that Monday is not the very best day for Halloween to fall, but it’s not the worst either. The best day is Friday or Saturday, but Monday will work for the previous weekend’s adult costume parties.

By the way, if you ever want to have your mind blown, go into a Party City on the day before Halloween. The chaos is beyond description.

Ralph Jacobson

While traditional candy shopping continues to grow slowly for this holiday, more adult activities also drive sales. The key is to leverage external data for “holidays” like this. Local events, social chatter, hot news items (candidate costumes) and even weather drive business for adults … and kids. The ability to derive insights for the data sources is beyond the typical human merchant’s analytical skills. There are some new tools to get this job done effectively now, and some innovative retailers are seeing huge gains in demand forecasting accuracy for exactly this type of holiday event.

Max Goldberg

What consumers say they will do is frequently different from what they actually do. Of course the NRF says Halloween sales will be the highest ever. Too many consumers are still mired in the aftereffects of the Great Recession. And while consumer confidence is growing, I don’t think we will see record Halloween or holiday seasons.

Steve Montgomery

As Paula indicated Halloween is a relatively “cheap” date. For the young kids it still has the allure it always did of dressing up and getting candy. Two of young kids’ favorite things to do.

For some adults it is a chance to relive a fond childhood memory. For others it is a chance to party. It appeals for those in between for a variety of reasons including collecting candy (at least half the kids we get are what we used to consider too old for trick or treating) or just a another chance to socialize with friends.

I don’t see this trend slowing down and expect at least moderate growth in Halloween-related sales.

Karen S. Herman

Halloween gives shoppers the chance to celebrate their individual creativity and is truly a DIY holiday. Not surprised that shoppers are eager to celebrate and “eight in 10 Americans will shop by mid-October.” Who wouldn’t, given the fun and festivities to enjoy before the extra effort that comes with shopping in November and deciding between Singles Day, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday … then December, with the barrage of sales, specials, GWPs and BOGOs? Now THAT’S scary!

Roger Saunders

As George has captured from Prosper’s Pam Goodfellow, Halloween will be rollicking good time for retailers. While the individual spend is a lower ticket than other holidays, as some have pointed out, adults, 18+ are stepping up their plans to celebrate. This October, 69.1% of adults will celebrate the holiday, compared to 64.0% in 2015. Even more important, 88.3% of Millennials will be celebrating vs. 80.9% in 2015.

More than candy is going to be working its way through retailers’ doors — among those celebrating, 73.9% will dress for the occasion, 50.9% will attend a party, 34.9% will take kids trick or treating — watch the neighborhood, you’ll even see grandparents walking with mom, dad, and grandchildren; and 35.1% of those celebrating will be seeking a good scare — they plan to visit a haunted house. Decorations will hit double digit gains on a year-over-year basis.

The biggest portion of shopping takes place two weeks prior to Halloween night — keep the stores stocked and no need to take discounts too early.

"Halloween was a kid's holiday when I was a kid. Today it's an adult holiday."
"Halloween gives shoppers the chance to celebrate their individual creativity and is truly a DIY holiday."
"The thing about Halloween is it has no family “charge” around it like Thanksgiving and no gift giving to drain the wallet..."

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