Spooky Spending: How Halloween changes the way people pay

Halloween is often overlooked as a minor holiday that involves no gift-giving. The reality is that Halloween marks the beginning of a long consumer spending spree that goes through major holidays including Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali and others.

This article examines important aspects of Halloween including when and where consumers shop, how much they are planning to spend this year in comparison to years past, as well as what types of items they purchase. Also covered is the role social media plays in influencing spending.

Surprisingly, sweets rank third in terms of spending share for Halloween at 29%, or about $2.7 billion, which easily outpaces the candy spend at Valentine’s Day, which comes in around $1.8 billion. The overall largest category according to a blog post from the National Retail Federation’s annual Halloween survey is costumes, at 37%, in which consumers are expected to spend roughly $3.2 billion this year.

It could be argued that more money is spent on costumes because they can be reused for other parties or even for future Halloweens, however many consumers, especially children will either outgrow the costumes or want to change to the latest superhero or Disney character for next Halloween.

Decorations came in second in terms of expected spending at 30% (over $2.6 billion), with 70% or more of consumers 18-64 years of age planning to make purchases. The largest group planning to purchase decorations were 25-34 year old consumers at 80%, followed by 35-44 year olds at 79%. Candy and chocolates may not be the biggest purchase item, but they are almost universally given away – over 90% of consumers 18-65+ plan on giving away candy on Halloween.
Overall Halloween spending per person has remained relatively flat for the last three years, with 2019 expected to come in at $86.27 per person, down from last year’s high of $86.79 per person. Based on data from the National Retail Federation’s 2009 - 2019 Halloween surveys, the total spend this year will be $8.8 billion, down from 2018 at $9 billion and the all-time high in 2017 at $9.1 billion.

While the average per-person spend is $86.27, there is a great deal of difference based on age. According to the National Retail Federation’s annual Halloween survey, 35-44 year old consumers plan to spend about $115.53 per person, 25-34 year old consumers will spend $109.11 and 45-54 year old consumers will spend $91.30. Consumers 65 and older will spend only $47.01 per person.

When it comes to spending by region, the Northeast rules the roost with an average expected spend of $92.78 per person, followed by the South at $89.84 and the West at $83.16. It’s the Midwest that turns out to be the stingiest at this time of the year with an average expected per-person spend of just $77.57.
Nearly half of millennials report that their Halloween purchases are influenced by their desire to use the items on social media posts. According to the CompareCards Halloween survey, only 37% of Gen Z and just 30% of Gen X consumers reported that their purchases were driven by the desire to include them in a social media post.

When it comes to consuming social media and following Instagram or Pinterest influencers, men are more likely to have their Halloween spend influenced by social media at 37% compared to women at 21%.

The CompareCards survey also found that children’s influence can be just as powerful as social media, if not more so. Nearly half of dads (46%) reported that their children guilted them into spending on Halloween. This is more than double the number of women (21%) who admitted that their children influenced them into spending on Halloween.
Last-minute shopping is not just reserved for birthdays and Christmas, as few consumers plan far into the future. Women are more likely than men to shop for Halloween in September — 34% vs. 28%, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual Halloween survey. While most people typically wait until the month of October rolls around, it’s the men who tend to be more last-minute shoppers, with 24% waiting until the last two weeks of the month to shop compared to just 18% of women.

Understandably, having a significant amount of chocolate and candies in the house months in advance of Halloween may not make the most sense since it’s likely to be eaten. Also, pop-up shops such as Spirit Halloween, which tend to takeover empty strip mall locations, only arrive in September. Additionally, most large retailers such as Macy’s and Costco tend to be focused on back-to-school promotions in August and September, leaving little room for Halloween displays.
As could be expected, there is no clear leader in sales of Halloween purchases. It is likely that grocery stores, drug stores and discount stores tend to be used more for candies, while specialty stores and e-commerce are more favored for costumes, with home décor stores used for decorations.

Based on the National Retail Federation’s annual Halloween survey, the leading store category for Halloween purchases is the discount store, at 42% of consumers shopping there for Halloween items, followed by specialty Halloween stores at 36% and online stores and grocery stores tied in third place, at 25% each.