How Halloween Haunts October Commerce

With the flipping of the calendar to October and the pumpkin spiced drinks flowing freely from sea to shining sea, it’s time for one of the most underappreciated shopping holidays: Halloween.  

A lot of people pony up an awful lot of cash to scare, be scared or just to make sure the Instagrammed pictures of their children are the cutest in the playgroup. And that’s just the direct money — Halloween also has a history of guiding all sorts of other choices about spending that have nothing to do with getting decked out in a ghoulish costume.  

Ready for the spooky details? Well let’s start with some frightening sums of money.  

Halloween: Bigger Than The Super Bowl

In 2015, by most estimates, 114 million people tuned in to watch the Super Bowl. That’s nothing — 157 million people across the U.S. (as in roughly 50 percent of the people living in the U.S.) plan to celebrate Halloween, according to the latest figures from the National Retail Federation’s Halloween Consumer Spending Survey.

The survey further found that the average consumer will spend $74.34 on the holiday, down slightly from last year’s average of $77.52. All in, the survey expects the holiday to total out in $6.9 billion, again a slight step down from last year’s $7.4 billion.

About a third of those funds will flow to the candy makers, as 93.7 percent of Halloween shoppers plan to buy it and will likely spend about $2.1 billion for it. Greetings cards will also drive a lot of the spooky spend this year; a third of consumers plan to purchase them and they are expected to net $330 million.  

Unsurprisingly, costumes will also snap up a lot of those dollars ($2.5 billion), split between homemade and store-bought. And while generally thought of as a holiday for children, the majority of the cash spent on costumes will be by adults for adults, which is expected to bring in $1.2 billion. Children’s costumes will bring in an additional $950 million — and pet costumes (yes, pet costumes) will edge out greeting cards for spend at an estimated $350 million in 2015.

The NRF further estimates that 68 million American humans will be in Halloween costumes this year and 20 million American pets will also be wearing costumes.  

Just the cutest.

And when not decorating themselves, their children or their dogs, 44 percent of Halloween celebrators will also be decking the halls with bales of hay, pumpkins, lights, cobwebs and simulated dead bodies. All that eerie decor adds up to another $1.9 billion in revenue (or an average of about $20.34 per person).

“After a long summer, consumers are eager to embrace fall and all of the celebrations that come with it,” NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay said in a NRF release. “We expect those celebrating Halloween this year will look for several different activities to do with their family and friends. Consumers are ready to take advantage of promotions on candy, decorations and costumes, and retailers are ready to serve them.”

More consumers are also getting into the spirit and shopping for seasonal goodies before Oct. 1 — 34.1 percent, up from 32.1 percent last year.  

“People shouldn’t be too surprised when they see Halloween candy and decorations available in stores as early as September 1st,” Prosper Insights Principal Analyst Pam Goodfellow noted. “Given that more than a third of Americans enjoy taking advantage of early-bird deals to kick off their fall celebrations, it seems there’s plenty of appetite among consumers to enjoy a perfectly ‘frightful’ Halloween.”

The Halloween Spending Penumbra

Halloween on its own — with the costumes, candy and dancing skeleton lights  has the power to push a lot of spend. But it also pushes consumers by changing their mood somewhat and affects a broader spectrum of what they want to consume.  

One of the easier examples of this to point to is in entertainment, particularly for movies. October is the month when 20 percent30 percent (depending on which list you use and what you count as a “scary movie”) of all the top grossing horror of the last 30 years were released. Which is unsurprising, since so very many horror movies get released in October. This year alone, viewers will have to decide if they want to see an alien apocalypse, a zombie apocalypse or a yakuza apocalypse — as all three will be options at the local cinema.  

Netflix will up the free horror movies for download, and broadcasters are gearing up for their 30-day monster movie marathons. Horror, it should be noted, doesn’t generally do well outside of a niche group of enthusiasts for the rest of the year. Horror breakout films happen throughout the year, but downloads, ticket sales and stream counts spike when consumers start thinking about Halloween.  

And while modifying consumers’ entertainment preferences, Halloween also drives people (and particularly millennials) online. According to the NRF, an increasing number of consumers are starting their Halloween costume planning a month or two in advance — often on Instagram or Pinterest. Pinterest is now used by 13.3 percent of shoppers planning their costumes, up from about 7 percent three years ago.

The Really Scary Part

Halloween is only the prelude.

Once all those pumpkins are gone, they are replaced with something far, far scarier.