Our home office is about a 45-minute drive from Salem, MA, the self-proclaimed “Halloween capitol of the world”. Downtown Salem is a pleasant area of restaurants and quirky small shops, and anyone who’s been there on a Sunday afternoon in October can tell you that it’s shoulder-to-shoulder people, performers, vendors, and, you know, witches.
But this is Halloween 2020, when everyone’s wearing a mask, a man in Texas built a candy-shooting robot for distanced hand-outs, and the only thing more frightening than a face-to-face meeting is a crowd. Of the 700 events usually planned for Salem’s month-long Haunted Happenings celebration, which in a normal year brings half a million visitors to celebrate, shop, and dine in the city, only a small fraction will actually happen, and those will be very different. Across the country many municipalities are already canceling traditional trick-or-treating outright, or at least discouraging it. It’s hard to imagine a Haunted House attraction in this environment, and Halloween parties at schools or community centers will look very different this year, if they happen at all.
What does this mean for the retail world? According to the National Retail Federation’s annual report on Halloween, overall consumer spending will drop, from $8.78 billion last year to a predicted $8.05 billion this year. However, the per person spending average is expected to increase, from $86.27 last year to $92.12 this year, as shoppers spend on home decor, candy and cards. The NRF reports that more than three-quarters of adults said the virus is affecting their holiday plans. About 17% plan to celebrate virtually. More than 148 million US adults plan to celebrate the holiday with at-home plans like decorating and carving pumpkins most popular. In 2019, 49% planned to decorate their homes, while this year 53% are decorating.
While many retailers have put out seasonal merchandise earlier than normal, it seems as if consumers are more open to it this year. There’s also been a shift in the types of costumes being sold this year, away from super heroes and film characters toward everyday heroes such as nurses, doctors, and firefighters. Discount stores, specialty Halloween stores, grocery stores, and online retailers remain top physical shopping destinations, although 3 in 10 are making Halloween purchases online, up from one-quarter last year.
Party City plans to open just 25 pop-up stores under its Halloween City banner this year, a 91% reduction from the 275 they opened last year. However, seasonal retailer Spirit Halloween has said that they “can’t wait to welcome you back at our 1,400 locations nationwide” (with enhanced safety protocols), and US sales of Halloween candy were up 13% over last year in the month ending Sept. 6, according to the National Confectioners Association. Sales of chocolate alone are up 25%, good news for candy companies, which make nearly 14% of their annual $36 billion in US sales during the 10-week Halloween period.
Halloween 2020 may not be as much of a horror for retail as one might think. What will the Holidays bring? According to the NRF’s website, Holiday retail sales in 2019 grew 4.1% over the previous year, totaling $730.2 billion. In a survey of 54 retailers about 2020 Holiday plans, the NRF says, “from rethinking the shopping timeline to reimagining traditional sale events, retailers are actively planning ahead to ensure they’re ready to meet consumers’ holiday shopping needs”. That’s a sign of cautious optimism. So, put on your mask, and have a safe, (reasonably) Happy Halloween.
Chris Cardoni, Marketing Manager