The nightmare is that Halloween will prove scarier than usual this year, for retailers at least.
Will the threat of a second wave of COVID-19 infections frighten away trick-or-treaters? If so, that could hurt sales of candy, of course, but also of costumes and home decorations. Especially if Halloween parties are another casualty of the pandemic.
The stakes are high, because Halloween has become a big deal for American retailers. The National Retail Federation (NRF) estimates that U.S. consumers spent $8.78 billion on Halloween candy, costumes, decorations and greeting cards in 2019.
But fears of ghoulish Halloween may be overblown. Data from the National Confectioners Association found that early sales of Halloween candy and chocolate were actually up this year compared to 2019. For the four weeks ended September 6, total Halloween chocolate and candy sales increased 13% versus the comparable prior-year period.
Sales in the grocery channel were particularly strong, posting a 17% increase in candy and chocolate sales.
This year’s survey for the NRF by Prosper Insights & Analytics also suggests that retailers have reason to be upbeat. The survey found that more than 148 million U.S. adults plan to participate in Halloween-related activities this year: 53% plan to decorate their home, 46% intend to carve a pumpkin, and 18% plan to dress up their pet.
“Consumers continue to place importance on celebrating our traditional holidays, even if by untraditional standards,” NRF president and chief executive officer Matthew Shay said. “Retailers are prepared to meet the increased demand for seasonal decor, costumes and other items that allow families the opportunity to observe Halloween safely.”
The pandemic will have an impact, the survey suggests. More than three-quarters of respondents said COVID-19 is changing their celebration plans. The number of people planning to host or go to parities, trick-or-treat, hand out candy or visit haunted houses have all dropped. On the plus side, 17% of survey respondents said they plan to celebrate virtually this year.
The NRF/Proper Insights & Analytics study projects that consumer spending on Halloween will reach $8.05 billion this year, down from $8.78 billion in 2019.
The study suggests that one thing propping up this year’s sales forecast is the fact that some consumers plan to spend a little more this year, in order to ensure that Halloween 2020 is memorable. Somewhat fewer people may be celebrating Halloween this year, but those who are plan to spend $92.12 on average this year, compared with $86.27 in 2019.
A survey by Coresight Research conducted on September 22 also found evidence that Halloween sales will be down somewhat this year, with four in 10 respondents saying they will spend less this year than last, and 16% planning to spend nothing at all on Halloween this year. The survey also found that the number of people planning to avoid public places spiked in the latest survey after weeks of declines. But the survey also found that demand for home decorations and costumes is likely to remain strong, even if total spending is down somewhat.
So maybe Halloween 2020 won’t be so scary for retailers after all. Is it too soon to worry about Christmas?