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Smaller Gatherings, Less Trick-or-Treating, Shape Shoppers’ Halloween Search Activity

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Social distancing will weigh heavily on this year’s Halloween festivities: only 52% of parents are planning on going trick-or-treating with their children, down from 78% in 2019, according to data from Premise. However, the holiday is far from cancelled, even if trolling for treats through the neighborhood isn’t at the top of people’s minds.

Searches for the term “Halloween candy” on Amazon went from the 48th most common in 2019 to 76th in 2020, according to data from Pattern. The company believes this shift is due to lower overall interest in trick-or-treating, but some of the other activities and trends retailers should still keep an eye on include:

  • Gatherings stay small and virtual: Just because shoppers want to play it safe doesn’t mean they don’t want to celebrate — smaller and virtual parties may become the norm, but people still want costumes;
  • People celebrate in different ways: The spirit of Halloween is still alive and well, so even if candy isn’t as appealing this year retailers should still help their shoppers find festive ornaments and alternative activities;
  • Safety looms large: Retailers can benefit by offering tools for a socially distanced Halloween, and using data on what sells well as a blueprint for the rest of the holiday season.

Halloween search term penetration has actually risen on Amazon year-over-year despite the pandemic, according to Pattern, which analyzed nearly 10 million search terms. The holiday is likely still playing a big role in October ecommerce sales — it’s just that the sheer volume of customer traffic in general makes it seem smaller.

“Even though you see this drop in Halloween being concentrated near the top of search activity, it looks like the overall penetration was almost double what it was last year,” said John LeBaron, Chief Revenue Officer at Pattern in an interview with Retail Touchpoints. “To me, it’s not saying Halloween is less important — it’s actually more important if you look at the penetration of Halloween topics — but the fact that people are migrating more to ecommerce means there’s other behavior at the top of search that’s drowning out the amplification you would normally see.”

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Small Parties Still Call for Costumes

Approximately 16.7% of consumers plan to attend a Halloween event, down from 21.7% in 2019, according to Premise. Nearly two-thirds (63.9%) of these shoppers will attend a friend or family member’s party. Another 6.5% of all consumers will attend a virtual event.

The move to online events could impact costume sales: 54% of moms don’t plan on dressing up for Halloween this year if they attend a virtual Halloween party, according to Zulily. However, Amazon’s top 10,000 search terms included 264 costume searches — down from 2019’s 497, but still significant.

“It seems like people aren’t going the traditional trick-or-treating route, so they’re looking for ways to express themselves outside of that, whether it be through decorations or costumes for a virtual party,” said Hamilton Noel, Senior Analyst at Pattern in an interview with Retail TouchPoints.

The top costume searches on Amazon this year are for dog, Harley Quinn, dinosaur, Spiderman and plague doctor, according to Pattern. Premise found that 58.5% of those who plan on wearing costumes will purchase a new one, while Zulily noted that 34% of moms plan on making their own.

Decorating, DIY and Movie Marathons Will Substitute for Trick-or-Treating

Trick-or-treating may be out and parties may be limited, but Halloween decorations are still popular. In fact, 44.5% of consumers still plan on decorating the outside of their homes, and 40.4% will decorate the inside, according to Premise. This is in line with what Pattern saw on Amazon:

  • In 2019, the top Halloween search terms were Halloween, Halloween costume for women, and then Halloween decorations; but
  • In 2020, the top search terms are Halloween decorations, Halloween decoration clearance, and Halloween lights.

“One of the general themes I’ve noticed is this kind of ‘stay at home’ mantra,” said LeBaron. “It reflects the new reality of today: everything from Halloween face masks to Halloween movies to Halloween books. People are cooped up at home, and they’re looking to celebrate in ways that they probably wouldn’t have in past years.”

Similar results also were uncovered by Zulily. The retailer found that 32% of moms at least somewhat agree that they are planning to celebrate Halloween this year “as it’s a nice break from everything else,” with 35% planning on holding a Halloween movie marathon and 31.3% planning to make their own spooky treats.

Safety is Top of Mind When it Comes to Celebrations

Safety concerns are impacting Halloween sales just as they are shaping the rest of retail. Face masks and Clorox wipes are some of the searches dominating Amazon, and Halloween gifts that can be presented in a safe manner are gaining traction.

“Key into the fact that people care about sanitation,” said Noel. “Is it wrapped? Can you give it within a wrapper or a bag? Is there some way that you can share this on Halloween in a safe way?”

While it’s too late for most brands to completely shift gears in time for Halloween, they can still learn from what is selling well — and what isn’t — on Amazon to prepare them for the coming holiday season and beyond. Changes in consumer behavior in October could serve as predictors for what kinds of products will sell well in the coming months.

“Mine the customer sentiment and changes in customer behavior,” said LeBaron. “It gives great ideas as far as products that could be launched in the future, like a stay-at-home Halloween party kit or a stay-at-home Christmas kit. These things probably wouldn’t be that big in 2019, but once you understand the data points and where search volume is going, what you can do with these insights starts to be interesting.”

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