Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Boo Again: Return of the Halloween Article!

It’s October already. Happy Halloween, and welcome to the Halloween Article!

I’ve written about Halloween from time to time in this publication, partly because, well, I like Halloween, and partly because Halloween, as the current press has been trumpeting for weeks, has in the last few years grown into an exponentially more significant retail milestone than it had ever been. It’s become not only a measure of retail health itself, it’s come to be regarded as precursor to, and an indicator of, the potential success or failure of the holiday shopping season.

So here it is: according to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey, a record 69% of Americans intend to participate in Halloween this year. Imagine a political candidate who could get 69% of Americans to do anything.

Total Halloween spending is forecast to reach $6.86 billion, the highest in the 10 years the retail trade group has been conducting the survey. The average person plans to spend $72.31 on decorations, costumes and candy, up from $66.28 last year.

When I write for these pages I tend to look for subjects that not only have significance for the retail industry, but contain some social and/or emotional element. There’s often a relationship between how, what, and why we buy (or don’t buy) and how we’re all feeling about the economy, the country, and ourselves.
Halloween, in difficult economic times, is a measure of how much we need to celebrate. Also, it’s fascinating to read about what the popular costumes are every year, because they say a great deal about who our particular heroes – and villains – are.

For example, in my Halloween article two years ago, I reported that the most popular costume purchase was a Bernie Madoff mask. Halloween revelers were choosing to masquerade as a supreme symbol of financial villainy (Halloween, The Holidays, and the Madoff Mask, October 2009).

This year’s most popular figure: Charlie Sheen. Yeah, it scares the heck out of me, too.

In preparation for this article (okay, partly in preparation for this article, and partly just for fun), I took a tour of the big Halloween pop-up store that’s running now in the nearby vacant Borders (that sentence alone is fraught with all kinds of resonance for the retail industry - the number of pop-up stores dedicated to Halloween merchandise rose an estimated 8% this year; last year, pop-up shops expanded by 15%).

Here are my entirely unscientific observations:

• Costumes are expensive!
• Sexy costumes outnumber other types by two to one
• The “classics” are as popular as ever: clown, gypsy, hobo, cowboy, etc.
• That original Halloween movie Mike Meyers mask is still pretty scary

According to the NRF, adults will spend $1 billion on costumes, up from $840 million last year. Besides Mr. Sheen, other popular costume choices this year include Green Lantern, Lady Gaga, zombies, Smurfs, Angry Birds, Katy Perry, Jersey Shore star Snooki, singers Nicki Minaj, Taylor Swift, and Justin Bieber, and Dog the Bounty Hunter. Zombies jumped to No. 4 on the list for adults this year, up from No. 7 last year, and to No. 9 from No. 22 for kids. "Zombies are everywhere," commented one NRF spokesperson - another statement that’s fraught with all kinds of resonance.

As of this writing we’re entering the final days of the Halloween shopping period, and the holiday merchandise has already appeared on store shelves. How does the optimistic Halloween retail sales forecast jibe with expectations for the holiday season? Holiday retail sales are expected to rise 2.8% to $465.6 billion, the National Retail Federation predicts. This growth, while far slower than last year’s 5.2% gain, is slightly higher than the NRF’s 10-year average holiday sales gain of 2.6%. We’ll see.

By the way, you may have heard dire tales of pumpkin shortages, such as this recent report: “Hurricane Irene flooded pumpkin fields up the East Coast and into Canada, worsening a fungus outbreak and wiping out pumpkin crops at some farms. Tropical Storm Lee dropped more rain over pumpkin fields in the Southeast, causing problems there as well…news reports about possible pumpkin shortages have caused early pumpkin-panic buying and prices have jumped 30 to 40%.”

But don’t worry: reports of shortages are exaggerated. There are plenty of pumpkins to be had. Oh, and a Charlie Sheen mask, complete with mischievous grin, costs just $19.99 at Spirit Halloween. Enjoy your October!

Chris Cardoni, Marketing Manager

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