Will Consumers Ghost Halloween This Year? Sales Data Says No

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Over the last six months, the coronavirus pandemic has crept into every facet of our lives and caused dramatic changes to where we work, what we buy, and how we learn

As we head into the final few months of the year with social distancing precautions still in place, we’ll soon see how the pandemic will shift the way we celebrate the holiday season.

Coming up first: Halloween. 

A holiday often celebrated by visiting neighbors door-to-door and gathering around festive communal punch bowls in costume, the coronavirus is sure to change the way consumers celebrate Halloween this year. 

But the outlook isn’t all doom and gloom. See how the pandemic has already begun to impact brands this year, and which retail categories are expected to thrive.

Candy brands feel the crunch 

Two words that could squash trick-or-treating this year: Social distancing. 

In a normal year, 55 percent of households greet trick-or-treaters at their door, according to consumer insights from Advantage Solutions. But will that still be the case this year?

Recently, Klaviyo surveyed 1,000 consumers to learn more about their upcoming plans for Halloween 2020. When asked what activities they were planning to engage in this year, only 25 percent said they plan to give out Halloween candy to trick-or-treaters. 

When asked if they knew whether trick-or-treating was happening or not yet in their area this year, 53 percent were unsure. This uncertainty is a hallmark of pandemic times. 

Looking at a dataset for 18,000 brands, researchers observed that Halloween candy sales traditionally begin to spike at the beginning of September, according to Klaviyo. 

This year, Halloween candy sales are seeing a slower uptick in sales and a dramatically reduced volume of sales orders compared to last year.

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Candy brands are bracing for change. 

Just Born, the maker of popular holiday marshmallow candy, Peeps, has announced that they’re halting production of the festive treats until Easter 2021, according to Today. Effectively, Halloween, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day are canceled for this candy manufacturer. Just Born cites employee safety as the reason behind the decision. 

Anticipating that pandemic precautions would last into the fall, candy manufacturing corporation, The Hershey Company, adjusted by changing its messaging and digital strategy, according to Reuters

Like savvy marketers who have pivoted during the pandemic, Hershey is personalizing their marketing based on customer location through a partnership with Google. 

Hershey will tailor digital ads to households using search data provided by Google. This data will give the candymaker clues about recent behaviors so they can send messaging that’s relevant to how the consumer might be celebrating Halloween this year.

Following a location-based strategy is also a wise tactic that’s been effective for marketers and it can be implemented by staying up-to-date with coronavirus trends in various geographic locations, then adjusting messaging by location. 

The Halloween & Costume Association and Harvard Global Health Institute made this simple for both consumers and merchants. They launched Halloween2020.org to help consumers assess the risk of Halloween activities by county. 

Halloween spirit stays home 

In an effort to thwart the spread of the coronavirus and stay compliant with state guidelines, large social gatherings like theme park attractions and haunted houses have been canceled this year. 

Still eager for a diversion reminiscent of pre-coronavirus times, signs are suggesting that Halloween celebrations will more commonly be held at home this year. 

According to the previously mentioned survey of consumers, the most popular Halloween activity this year will be pumpkin carving rather than trick-or-treating. 

Trends for 2020 Halloween decoration sales are nearly the same as in 2019. There’s a noticeable reduction in sales volume, but nowhere near the same decline that’s happening in candy sales.

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Dollar Tree CEO, Michael Witynski, had the foresight to adjust inventory based on these trends, according to NBC News.

“In March, the merchant team took action to make adjustments in Halloween buys and de-risk the category, much less focus on traditional trick-or-treating and large gatherings and more focus on decorations and costumes,” Witynski said.

Consumers stay in and dress up 

Even if consumers stay home, it doesn’t mean they won’t be seen. Virtual gathering tools like Zoom and Houseparty have enabled people to stay connected throughout the pandemic and enabled many virtual firsts. 

Evan Mendelsohn, CEO of direct-to-consumer holiday-themed apparel brand, Tipsy Elves, shared that sales since September have grown 30 percent year-over-year. 

“We’re seeing really strong numbers, which was a bit baffling since we went into the month feeling like it could be a pretty different kind of Halloween. I’ve read a lot about counties canceling Halloween activities or trick-or-treating, yet we’re still seeing what appears to be strong demand. It’s showing us that people are still planning to celebrate even if it looks a little different than it has in the past,” Mendelsohn said.

"We're seeing really strong numbers, which was a bit baffling since we went into the month feeling like it could be a pretty different kind of Halloween... It's showing us that people are still planning to celebrate even if it looks a little different than it has in the past."

Evan Mendelsohn, CEO, Tipsy Elves

 

Consumers insistent on celebrating Halloween this year may turn to virtual gatherings where they can don costumes, at least from the neck up. Klaviyo’s data shows Halloween mask sales are surging ahead of last year in both sales volume and timeline.

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So far, Halloween costume sales are selling just as strong as last year and those sales started even earlier this year. This trend could be indicative of retailers and brands encouraging consumers to shop earlier this holiday season in response to delayed shipping concerns.

Mendelsohn says he’s seen Tipsy Elves’ costume sales start earlier this year, too, and suggests it could be the result of more people shopping online this year. Being an online direct-to-consumer brand has been hugely beneficial for their business and it’s paying off now more than ever. 

“More than ever, this year highlights the importance of having a direct relationship with your customers and being able to reach them online. Every year, online sales were growing relative to retail, but I think this year has really expedited the shift of consumers getting comfortable buying things online that they would traditionally shop for in-store”, says Mendelsohn.

"More than ever, this year highlights the importance of having a direct relationship with your customers and being able to reach them online. Every year, online sales were growing relative to retail, but I think this year has really expedited the shift of consumers getting comfortable buying things online that they would traditionally shop for in-store."

Evan Mendelsohn, CEO, Tipsy Elves

 

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These trends are encouraging and they give brands a glimpse into what the future of what the holidays might look like. Consumers will celebrate, but the nature of their celebrations will look different: think smaller groups at home or online. 

Mendelsohn shares a note of optimism for retailers and brands. 

“There’s a lot of negative press out there about Halloween and the holidays being canceled. That’s not the case from what we’re seeing. In some ways, the holidays are even more important to people during the coronavirus. People are getting creative and finding ways to celebrate. They’re making sure that the holidays remain special and that means continuing to purchase products that allow them to make those events extra memorable.”

"The holidays are even more important to people during the coronavirus. People are getting creative and finding ways to celebrate. They're making sure that the holidays remain special and that means continuing to purchase products that allow them to make those events extra memorable."

Evan Mendelsohn, CEO, Tipsy Elves

Planning beyond witch-ful thinking  

This Halloween will be scary for some and a treat for others. Candymakers are expected to be hit hardest, while Zoom celebrations might be a lifeline for Halloween costume retailers and brands.  

Whether your customers will be trick-or-treating or enjoying a socially distanced soirée at home, this is an opportunity for you to get creative with your customers.

Think about messaging for an alternative type of holiday—one that’s safe, but just as festive as years past. 

Consumers are telling us loud and clear that the holidays aren’t canceled. By being empathetic and proactive, you can help them retain a sense of normalcy through these cherished holiday festivities and earn their loyalty for holidays to come. 

Ready to think ahead and prepare your brand for the 2020 holiday season? 

 

Check out this holiday planning guide to learn how to drive more sales.

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