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The Haunting Of Brick And Mortar

As we approach the spookiest of holidays (not counting National Sea Monkey Day), here’s a scary thought for retail businesses: Noooo customerrrrs.

That frightening notion is an increasing reality for shopping malls, which have seen a steady decline over the last several years. The once-stalwart retail centers are in the midst of a full-blown crisis in the U.S., with over two dozen malls closing in the last year alone, and another 15 percent forecast to be converted into non-retail space during the next decade.

As department stores like JCPenney falter and are replaced by fast fashion brands, like Forever 21 and H&M, more shoppers are trading in a Sunday afternoon at the mall for browsing on their tablet or laptop. ECommerce provides retail consumers with a wider range of options, comparative shopping and on-demand services; as a direct result, malls have struggled to attract the foot traffic that their stores rely on for sales.

It’s somewhat ironic, then, that hope for shopping centers — and the brick-and-mortar stores they are home to — lies in the holiday that celebrates terror: Halloween.

With $6.9 billion in sales projected for the 2015 Halloween season, there are consumer dollars to be claimed. From costumes, to yard decor, to party treats and candy to hand out at the door, Halloween offers a plethora of access points for retailers. And most of that spending will happen in the physical store environment.

While more than 30 percent of Halloween costume shoppers will research ideas online, a recent study by the International Council of Shopping Centers reveals that 90 percent of consumers prefer to actually conduct their shopping for the holiday at brick-and-mortar stores. This presents a great opportunity for retailers outside the virtual realm, and the shopping malls they inhabit, to attract customers. As the trend of shoppers haunting the physical retail space has held steady over the last few years, here are a few of the reasons malls might once again be getting the last laugh (or scream) this Halloween.

 

Safety Concerns

While many of us have fond memories of running through suburban neighborhoods wearing our homemade costumes (or, if you were lucky enough, a store-bought plastic Chuck Norris face and smock), in the digital age, many communities have become less connected, and neighborhoods are not as tight-knit as they once were. In turn, many parents have become more skeptical of the potential dangers of loosing their children upon the dark of night to participate in the tradition of running around willy-nilly, often with mask-restricted vision, knocking on strangers’ doors for candy. Go figure.

For safety-conscious parents, malls offer a great alternative to nighttime outdoor trick-or-treating. Lacking vehicular traffic to contend with but providing ample lighting, organized activities and with reputable businesses participating, malls can give worried moms and dads peace of mind. Malls know this, and many of them lean into “safety” messaging when promoting their All Hallows’ Eve events.

Safety concerns aren’t the only reason families seek out shopping malls for their trick-or-treating. Malls present a great option for families with small children, those who live in rural areas and those in cold climates where, by Oct. 31, it can be quite nippy out. Retail shopping centers are getting into the habit of going a step further to create an even more memorable experience for participants by offering arts and crafts, organized activities and family-friendly entertainment.

All of these factors combine to make malls a very attractive option for many families.

 

Millennials Want Unique Experiences (All Together)

The millennial generation, quickly becoming notorious for its impulsive shopping behavior and a preference for smaller purchases versus long-term investing, really commit to Halloween and all of the fleeting fun it entails. With a driving desire to be seen as unique by their friends and family, millennials don’t want the same costume as their peers (unless a group of them are all dressing up as the rebooted Jem and the Holograms or something, because irony).

To that end, millennials crave a hands-on experience that goes beyond the classic pre-made costumes that were so coveted by previous generations (RIP Chuck Norris plastic face). This year, nearly one-third of Americans will purchase a Halloween costume; of those, there will be three adult costumes to every two children’s costumes.

Millennials are looking for intricate and clever Halloween getups that offer them the opportunity to highlight their personal creativity. Many search for inspiration on social networks like Pinterest (9.3 percent) and Facebook (14.1 percent), but — like the rest of the costume-buying crowd — millennials are also more likely to head to a brick-and-mortar store when it’s time to make their costume purchase. A paradoxical offshoot of relying on crowdsourcing for their inspiration is that many will end up mimicking celebrities and characters from the year’s most popular movies.

In addition to costume shopping, many younger millennials will splurge on nights out on the town or visit haunted houses and theme parks in the weeks leading up to Halloween. The holiday has become a boon for theme parks like Knott’s Berry Farm — known as Knott’s Scary Farm this time of year — which will pull in 25 percent of its annual revenue during the Halloween season. As a result, a lot of millennials will end up purchasing more than one costume to wear to multiple events and social outings during this spooky season.

While their younger individual counterparts are splurging on costumes, millennial families, on the other hand, will give a boost in the areas of handout candy and refreshments for parties and Halloween gatherings. Candy sales in the U.S. topped $2.5 billion in 2014 and are projected to continue to rise this year. This is good news for grocery stores and drugstores but also for specialty candy retailers who often take up residence in shopping malls.

 

Pet Participation

More and more pet lovers are spending on their four-legged friends for the Halloween holiday. This year, according to the National Retail Federation, an estimated 20 million pet owners are projected to spend nearly $350 million on pet costumes. Social media strikes again in this regard, acting to spur on this furry phenomenon; after all, what’s more “like”able than a sushi cat or pumpkin pug?

It’s not just dogs and cats that are getting in on the fun, with a variety of animals being forced against their will to don costumes this Halloween.

“Rats, rabbits, cats, anything that has four legs that’s big enough to put a costume on, people will come and try to dress it up,” one retailer recently explained to DogTime.

Robb Horen of the Denver-based dog boutique and spa Dog Savvy remarked to the outlet that “dogs are the new kids.”

He’s on to something there: With more millennials waiting until later in life to start families, their pets are becoming the recipients of their extra spending … and Halloween is no exception. This year, one in three millennials say they will be purchasing costumes for their pets. Malls that welcome four-legged trick-or-treaters are likely to attract a crowd … and that could bring them a scary amount of money.

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