12ft skeletons, pet costumes and vaccines: retailers are bracing for a weird Halloween

Like many other things in life, Halloween has been changed – perhaps forever – by the pandemic.

Mistrust of COVID-19 has done more than simply alter the logistics of trick-or-treat or the number of costume parties. It has changed the way the holidays, and others, are celebrated.

In the fall of 2020, Halloween was a respite and escape from a year of dread and angst – of closed schools, social distancing, runaway infection rates and a previously unthinkable death toll.

This year has brought relief in the form of vaccines, although the continued spread of COVID-19, as well as school quarantines and other headaches, continue to disrupt many lives. But certainly not on the same scale as last year – and this year it comes with the blessing of Dr Anthony Fauci, who has encouraged those vaccinated to go out to celebrate.

“I think you’re going to see a return to normal this year,” said Katie Thomas, who heads the Kearney Consumer Institute, an internal think tank at the Kearney consulting firm. “What we’re hearing from consumers is that most people are feeling a lot more comfortable this year. Because last year we didn’t even have the vaccines yet. So they feel more out of it. comfortable this year. ”

In this context, Halloween spending could reach a record this year, according to a study by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights and Analytics. They estimate vacation spending to reach $ 10.1 billion, up 26% from Last year and up over 15% from 2019 spending.

Planned celebrations have almost returned to 2019 levels, while shopping started earlier. According to the NRF, spending on costumes, candy and greeting cards are all expected to rise to higher levels than in recent years.

Data from the Coresight Research survey shows that around 65% of respondents typically celebrate Halloween or have children who do, and there were more (15.7%) who said they were planning to celebrate Halloween. ” slightly increase their spending compared to those who said they would decrease (12%). However, those who plan to spend much less (9.7%) outnumbered those planning to spend significantly more (6.4%).

Research from 1010data also shows that consumers are committing to Halloween earlier this year, a sign that they are more confident in their plans. It could also signal that the holidays are more of a staple than in the past for some consumers.

In August, costume sales were up 21% month-over-month, three percentage points above the monthly increase last year, according to 1010data. Candy sales were up 19%, compared to a double-digit monthly decline in August 2020.

Surprisingly, sales of pet costumes rose more than 4,000% in August (up from 298% last year). So don’t be surprised to see four-legged pumpkins and ghosts haunting your neighborhood this year.

The NRF noted that last year’s spike in households planning to decorate for Halloween – a way consumers adjusted to vacations during the pandemic last year – continued this year. Spending on Halloween decorations is estimated at $ 3.2 billion, up more than 20% from last year.

Home Depot knows something about the new consumer enthusiasm for Halloween decorations. The company in August exhausted an early drop of a giant decorative skeleton 12 feet tall with a price tag of $ 300. Now the article is sold on resale sites like eBay up to three times the retail price.

Home Depot sold its 12-foot skeleton over the summer.

Home deposit

“Decorations are always flying off the shelves,” Thomas said. “You walk into Lowe’s, Home Depot – it’s Halloween everywhere. Mass merchants, big box stores, even Spirit Halloween now offers even more decor. “

She added that the decor, “is an area where we are still in that moment of nostalgia that the pandemic has sort of led us to. All of us who are any age, from 30 and up, we kind of think of times past and simpler. I think that’s a good sign for retailers – people really want to have fun on the holidays. “

“Everyone wants to get in the mood”

All of the above are good for retailers in general. But who, precisely?

Like so much in retail, Halloween is fragmented. It is partly served by a small but stable group of specialists, foremost among them Spirit Halloween and Party City.

Spirit Halloween – property of Spencer Gifts – has more than 1,400 in its footprint. This year, the retailer plans to hire 35,000 seasonal workers to equip its stores. This represents an increase over the 28,000 workers he’s said over the past few years he’s hiring for the Halloween season.

Party City plans to open this year in 100 Halloween City pop-ups this year. This effectively quadruples its Halloween City footprint from last year, but it’s about 150 fewer pop-ups than it opened in 2019. Oddly enough, its staffing plans are lower than in 2019. last year, when the company added more workers per store than in the past to meet its needs. omnichannel needs during a season when the pandemic has radically transformed shopping.

The increase in the number of stores signals that Party City expects a partial return in in-store Halloween purchases. “People figured out how to navigate interior spaces,” said Nikki Baird, vice president of innovation at retail technology company Aptos and former analyst at Forrester Research. “There’s a familiarity now, or almost a comfort level. ‘If I wear my mask in the store, if my kids wear masks in the store, we can do these things.’”

Baird also notes that Halloween shopping can be a social activity compared to other types of shopping, with friends and families trying on costumes for each other. “Everyone wants to get in the mood,” she said.

According to Coresight, around 20% of Halloween shoppers surveyed in 2021 plan to shop in a specialty party or costume store.

This compares to 43% who plan to buy from a mass merchant or warehouse club. Halloween shoppers also said they would shop online (36%), grocery stores (32.5%), and dollar stores (28%).

“This reflects that many consumers who shop for Halloween prioritize low prices and convenience,” Coresight’s Deborah Weinswig and Richard Marooney said in a report. At the same time, specialty party and costume stores are probably attracting “the most dedicated cohort” of Halloween shoppers, according to Weinswig and Marooney.

According to 1010data, online sales at Amazon, Walmart, and Target in major Halloween categories all increased month-to-month in August. Amazon saw the biggest increase at 10%, followed by Target (9%) and then Walmart (4%). If the trends of last year continue this year, Target reportedly had their biggest Halloween lift in September, as its customers return to in-store shopping this year, according to 1010data.

Haunted by the ghosts of Halloween’s past

In the recent past, Party City has run into some Halloween headwinds. Two years ago, the company reported a disastrous drop in comparable sales for October 2019, which executives said was due to an unexpected increase in online shopping. The drop in sales meant that the retailer’s Halloween City unit lost market share during the season.

When a Halloween-focused retailer has a bad season, it takes another year for their next apple bite. Unfortunately for Party City, his next chance at Halloween was a holiday unlike any other country the country had ever known. The outbreak of COVID-19 during the Fall 2020 created a haze of uncertainty as to how the holidays would unfold before that. It said it plans to open just 25 Halloween City pop-ups, about a tenth of the number for 2019, as it anticipates avoiding in-person purchases.

In the end, Party City’s 2020 year exceeded expectations with a Halloween roughly comparable to 2019. Which means it hasn’t suffered any further lost sales., but given that the previous year had been a sharp drop in sales, the retailer missed for another season a chance to regain lost ground.

As for this year, Party City CEO Bradley Weston told analysts: “[W]We are well positioned for the upcoming Halloween season and are prepared for a variety of assortment and inventory demand scenarios. Our teams are focused and we are excited about our refined marketing, improved go-to-market position, and high omnichannel capabilities. “

According to foot traffic analysis firm Placer.ai, Party City’s traffic increased even during 2019 over the summer months before dropping again after a peak in July, when the delta variant of COVID- 19 started to increase.

Placer.ai vice president of marketing Ethan Chernofsky said that with the drop in cases, the timing could work in the retailer’s favor. “[T]The result could be a strong visitation period for the chain in the coming months, especially since the limitations of the holiday season a year ago could increase pent-up demand, ”Chernofsky said.

Baird suggested that savvy mass digital sellers like Walmart, Target and Costco have undertaken costume sales while Home Depot and Lowe’s have chosen decorating sales from specialists.

As with most categories, consumers have learned to shop for just about everything over the last year, and have also repeatedly chosen mass merchants as one-stop-shops to limit their travel in public. But the specialists also have a complete assortment and a store dedicated to the holidays for those who love them the most.

“This whole Halloween pop-up angle is set,” Baird said. Halloween Specialists “were making pop-ups before pop-ups became part of the retail vernacular. This part is done and established, and other retailers considering a pop-up strategy would do well to examine how well these companies are doing this now. “