Even Amid COVID-19 Concerns, Halloween Offers Safe Scares (And Retail Opportunities)

  • August 21, 2020 at 9:42 AM EDT
  • By Marie Griffin
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Anticipation of Halloween is growing among consumers, many of whom are viewing the celebration as a way to relieve stress and achieve a sense of normalcy after months of COVID-19 restrictions and uncertainties. That’s good news for retailers offering products in key categories such as decorations, costumes and candy, although merchants will need to adapt both their marketing and their assortments for a largely contact-free holiday.

“One thing is for sure – Halloween is happening,” said John Downs, President and CEO of the National Confectioners Association (NCA) in a statement. According to a survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of NCA, 74% of Millennial moms and young parents say that Halloween is more important than ever this year.

While people certainly don’t expect Halloween 2020 to be exactly like the ones they’ve celebrated in the past, they want to participate and will be looking to retailers for inspiration. In a poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of NCA, 63% of adults believe people will find creative, fun and safe ways to celebrate the Halloween season this year. One-quarter are optimistic, but not sure what to expect.

“Consumers report that they will be getting creative throughout the month of October to make sure that they can stay safe and still enjoy the Halloween season,” Downs added. “The results of our research reveal a deeply rooted enthusiasm for Halloween, even if it means that people have to rethink their approach this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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Surveys Reveal Probable Spending Patterns

Market research and consulting firm Insight to Action conducted a recent survey of mothers, finding that 70% expect to spend Halloween with their children this year. More than half (60%) of moms expect to spend about the same amount on Halloween this year as last year. Their most likely purchases will be candy (38%) and costumes (35%) for their children, followed by costumes for themselves and/or another adult (33%).

Moms are slightly more likely to decorate outside their home (37%) than inside (35%), but a higher percentage plans to buy something new for decorating inside (28%) than outside (24%).

Consumers Will Modify Halloween Traditions For COVID

In a recent survey, Party City found that 70% of parents are looking for alternatives to traditional trick-or-treating. Most consumers (68%) will be dressing up for neighborhood parades and events, while 63% are planning events at home.

The popular retailer of Halloween goods is anticipating that consumers will be doing more decorating inside and outside the home, and engaging in pandemic-modified activities such as drive-by and contact-free trick-or-treating. Here are some ways retailers can respond:

  • Offer pre-packaged Halloween gift bags: Despite the pandemic, “more than half of respondents plan to drop Halloween goodie bags at doorsteps as a contact-free way to surprise friends and loved ones.” Retailers can encourage social-distanced trick-or-treating with displays of goodie bags or small containers with Halloween themes.
  • Focus on the home: Sales of home and outdoor decorations could spike as consumers seek to keep celebrations within the safe environs of their homes’ interiors, windows, doors and yards. Retailers can take advantage of the fact that Halloween vendors have become more innovative and expanded their offerings in décor and outdoor decoration in recent years.
  • From sourdough to scary snacks: With the knowledge that consumers are doing more at-home food preparation, retailers should consider highlighting Halloween-themed baking, candy-making and pumpkin-carving products. If schools in the retailer’s area are doing part-time or exclusive remote learning, merchants should display décor items and activity sets that parents can incorporate into their home-schooling environments.
  • Let’s roll: Drive-by trick-or-treating will complement popular trunk-and-treat events, driving sales of decorations for cars, trucks, bicycles, wagons and strollers. Retailers should use signage to suggest products that would be appropriate for that use.

To make sure the enthusiasm for Halloween stays high, vendors are becoming more creative, too.

For example, Mars Wrigley will launch an app-based virtual Halloween portal called TREAT TOWN that will allow users to trick-or-treat for candy credits that they can redeem for real-life treats at retail. “Our Mars Wrigley team pivoted quickly to save the traditions and celebrations of Halloween,” said Anton Vincent, President of Mars Wrigley North America in a statement.

While some details are under wraps until the app debuts at midnight on October 1, the preview site says app users will be able to decorate their virtual doors, create spooky monster avatars and invite friends and family to connect. Users will then “knock” on the doors of their neighbors to trick-or-treat; those neighbors will have to “buy virtual candy credits that your trick-or-treaters can redeem for real candy.”

Calendar, Enthusiasm For Chocolate Will Help Holiday

Another positive for Halloween-themed retailer is that the holiday falls on a Saturday this year, the day of the week that has traditionally meant the most trick-or-treating and parties for both children and adults, and commensurately strong sales of all Halloween-related products.

Another trend that bodes well is how consumers have embraced chocolate during the pandemic. Since mid-March, chocolate sales have surged 4.5% as compared to just 2.2% for full-year 2019, according to a 2020 market analysis by NCA.

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