3 trends shaping Halloween shopping

VP, Industry and Consumer Insights

Halloween has grown both in terms of its popularity among U.S. consumers and its importance within the retail calendar over the past decade. According to NRF’s annual Halloween survey, conducted with Prosper Insights & Analytics, 72 percent of U.S. adults will celebrate Halloween this year, compared with 59 percent in 2007; expected spending on Halloween has grown from $5.1 billion to $9.1 billion during the same time period.

In 2016, NRF’s research team noted several important shifts in how the nation celebrates, from growing Millennial engagement to gender-neutral kids’ costumes. This year, we checked the data for what has changed since then and how retailers can continue to build on shoppers’ excitement for everything from costumes to candy corn.

Cooler weather brings more seasonal shopping

According to weather analytics firm Planalytics, 2016 was the warmest Halloween nationwide since 1974. While balmy temperatures might have been good news for trick-or-treaters, it meant fewer consumers were in the mood for the seasonal items they typically purchase in the weeks leading up to Halloween. As weather returns toward normal conditions this year, retailers can expect shoppers to be looking for items such as hot drinks to serve at Halloween parties, firewood for bonfires and fleece blankets to cozy up under while watching a scary movie.

“By removing the anomalies of last year’s warmth, retailers this year can expect a more cold-weather friendly environment leading up to Halloween,” says Planalytics Executive Vice President of Global Services Evan Gold. “On a national basis, categories such as fleece, soup and outerwear should anticipate favorable year-over-year demand trends due to the weather.”

Where you live changes how you shop for and celebrate Halloween

Halloween celebrations vary across the country. Depending on where consumers live, they may be more likely to splurge on candy, find their costume through an online search or carve a pumpkin. Paying attention to these differences allows retailers to localize marketing and inventory strategies and avoid a one-size-fits-all approach. For example, regional data shows that consumers living in the Midwest are most likely to decorate their home or yard or take their kids trick-or-treating compared with other areas of the country. These customers may be interested in events like Home Depot’s Halloween Style Challenge, which showcases spaces designed by six influencers, or Target’s “Epic Halloween” Pinterest board, which features instructions for creating a haunted patio or a super-spooky mantel.

Retailers targeting customers in the South may want to consider upping their search and social media strategies. Consumers in the South are more likely to find inspiration through an online search or Facebook than consumers in other areas.

The infographic below showcases additional regional differences.


Pop culture’s influence on Halloween grows

While witches and animals are always popular Halloween costumes, a growing number of consumers are also looking to dress up as celebrities, television characters and other cultural memes. This year, 17 percent of consumers report that pop culture would inspire their costumes, a 12 percent increase over last year. This becomes significantly higher when looking at younger Millennials and older Gen Zers: More than a third (34 percent) of younger consumers aged 18-24 say pop culture will influence their costume decisions.

The interest in pop culture is encouraging retailers that may not typically be associated with Halloween. After news surfaced that costume designers for HBO’s “Game of Thrones” were using Ikea rugs as capes for some of the characters, the Swedish home store released instructions for shoppers who wanted to recreate the looks. AMC and Mountain Dew created a Pokémon-Go style app based on “The Walking Dead,” where fans scan Mountain Dew products in stores to unlock and collect new “Walkers.”

Even without a direct tie to a show, there are a number of ways retailers can capitalize on shoppers’ desire to leverage cultural topics and memes for their costumes. Amazon and Etsy both have dedicated sections on their Halloween pages to cater to shoppers looking to dress up like their favorite television or movie character or who want to take advantage of 2017’s unicorn trend. Pinterest is also using interactive experiences to engage consumers, partnering with L’Oreal and Kellogg’s Rice Krispies to create a virtual haunted house. While it may not provide the “scare factor” of the real thing, the experience allows consumers to explore different rooms while also browsing ideas for DIY treats, Halloween make-up tutorials and decorations.