Halloween celebrations have exploded across the UK in the last decade with Halloween advertising leading shoppers to spend a whopping £474m in 2019 on fancy costumes, accessories, and themed parties, ranking it as the second most celebrated event in the UK, after New Years Eve.
Previously associated with mainly children, in the UK, adults’ role had largely been limited to ensuring the house was well stocked with sugar-packed snacks for visiting trick and treaters. Halloween as a significant date in the social calendar had largely been restricted to the US bar the steady stream of gory remakes of grainy classics. But as characters such as Jason and Michael Myers made their way across the Atlantic and into a more international pop culture, this all changed. Adults of all ages have jumped on board and, after almost two years of lockdown and restrictions brought on by the pandemic, a Halloween bonanza of consumer spending and fancy dress celebrations is expected with a significant increase in Halloween-related sales this year when compared to 2020.
Ghosts, ghouls and e-commerce
As a result of the severe COVID-19 restrictions, people worldwide embraced e-commerce as one of the few spaces where they could still practice old consumer habits relatively freely. When it came to seasonal celebrations, it was a way to keep the spirit going despite all the uncertainty and unease that dominated much of life during the pandemic. But this doom and gloom is now predicted to give way to an e-commerce boom. In contrast to physical stores, the online shopping available through smartphones, tablets and laptops is always at our fingertips and there are more ways than ever for consumers to discover, research and ultimately buy products online.
During the pandemic, what was already an upward trend almost became a necessity - and not just amongst the young digital natives - as consumers spent more time at home, glued to these devices. At a time of year when consumers are thinking about celebrations, retailers are fighting to offer the best Halloween promotions, pushing tailored and targeted deals and discounts through notifications and email alerts. Even as life adapts to the ‘new norm’ and festivities resume, retailers are using tech-savvy online sales platforms and trendy marketing ideas to entice consumers onto their sites. Halloween, as the first major celebratory holiday since restrictions were fully eased in the UK, will show just how far these habits have become engrained.
Halloween retail: from petrifying to posting
What was once a superstitious time of the year is now celebrated with trick or treating, fancy dress parties, pranks and fun for all ages. While the festivities have been somewhat hijacked by American culture, this ancient festival has its roots in Celtic mythology and mysticism, where it was believed that the souls of the dead would return for just one night to haunt the living. This latest American manifestation of Halloween known for its aggressive commercialisation is driven by global consumerism with Halloween offers galore flooding all media channels. Cheaply produced products in China are bought and sold in their masses in the UK as it has also become one of the largest cultural and commercial events on this side of the pond too.
In fact, according to the Guardian, Halloween ranks as the the second biggest celebration in the UK after the New Year's Eve celebrations with hundreds of millions splurged on fancy costumes, festive foods, and entertainment. This year could also prove to be bigger than most as it falls on a weekend and consumers will have an entire Saturday to seek out best deals for Halloween.
So what’s with the sudden interest in this holiday? The answer is, social media. Social networking plays the biggest role when it comes to influencing and inspiring people. A report from Lendingtree concludes that about half of the millennials have said that they buy Halloween items just to create posts for the “gram” (Instagram). The national retail Federation president, Matthew Shay, has also stated, “spending has not changed much over the past few years but we are seeing a much more noticeable increase in consumers who are making Halloween purchases inspired by their friends, neighbours, celebrities or influencers they follow on social media”. Pinterest is also a favourite platform for browsing for costume ideas whilst YouTube is used for makeup inspiration and tutorials.
Must-have Halloween buys in 2021
During the scariest time of year, British people spend their money mostly on costumes, food products, including chocolate, sweets for trick or treating, as well as pumpkins. Beyond social media, the technological phenomenon and now predominance of streaming platforms such as Netflix and HBO also have the power to influence popular culture enormously. The on demand nature of streaming channels has seen the consumption of viral series and films impact Halloween costumes too. Instead of the ‘traditional’ Halloween favorites, such as ghosts, mummies, zombies, vampires, witches and wizards, consumers are being drawn to favourite characters such as Elsa from ‘Frozen’ for younger audiences or Joker and Batman for fans of DC Comics.
The unrivalled options of choice offered on the internet more broadly mean that many of the most popular Halloween stores are online and are perfect for party goers looking to stand out with the must have fancy dress idea. What will win this year? Halloween 2021 looked set to be the year of Bridgerton costumes. The Netflix show exploded in the first week of the launch of its first season. But mass produced versions of the famous green and white tracksuits from the now record breaking and viral ‘Squid Game’ are tipped to be firm favourites.
Green backlash or opportunity?
Whilst many people get creative, usually these costumes are cheap, lightweight outfits made from largely synthetic costumes with eBay and many other pop-up Halloween online sellers being the go-to option as they can be shipped easily using most postal couriers. Retailers and couriers who can convincingly push their green credentials - be it by promoting their use of sustainable or recycled fabrics or a reliance on green fuel for their fleets - can capitalise on Halloween by benefiting from current consumer trends that are moving away from the ‘throwaway fashion’
Not all Halloween plans are looking rosy though - Brexdelays
Instead of the typical Halloween sale of pumpkins on 1 November, there could be a scramble days in advance to land just one per household. Supply chain issues linked to Brexit, may yet hit plans to celebrate Halloween though. Early warning signs based on a poor national harvest and concerns about transportation indicate that staple of all good Halloween decorations and iconic orange autumnal fruit - the pumpkin - may be in short supply for Halloween this October. Import delays caused by Brexit and a particularly grey British summer could make pumpkins more difficult to come by. A lack of migrant labour available for pickers has already been seen during the UK’s strawberry season but this, combined with a shortage of HGV drivers could cause further disruption to the pumpkin harvest.
What’s next for Halloween?
Halloween is slowly becoming less and less superstitious and based on timeless traditions. Instead, through the technologies used to participate in Halloween celebrations to spotting the most viral costume trends, it is in fact a very accurate measure of what’s hot and what’s not each autumn. So why is this important for business? Because with Yuletide just around the corner, another age-old time for festivities, getting Halloween right could mean a very Happy Christmas for retailers indeed.