Trick or treat?

by

Published: October 31,2005

Ghosts, ghouls and goblins know how to pack a punch. Before fright night is over, Halloween revelers will have spent nearly $3.3 billion in retail sales, up 5.4% from 2004.

Southerners are the least likely to celebrate Halloween, with only one of two consumers enjoying the holiday’s festivities, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). Americans living out West have the highest participation rate — 56% — followed closely by Midwesterners (54%) and New Englanders (53%).

However, nearly one-third of Southern adults plan to dress in costume, spending roughly $31 each on new identities for the night. Among the most popular choices: witches, vampires, famous people, monsters, pirates and angels. “For many adults, creating the perfect costume is a competitive sport,” said Phil Rist, vice president of strategy for BIGresearch.

One in three adults will take their children trick-or-treating in costumes ranging from princesses to Star Wars characters to 2004’s most popular costume character Spiderman. One in five will even suit up the family pets to parade around the neighborhood this year. Nationally, costumes account for $1.15 billion in sales.

“Our Halloween season is like other retailers’ Christmas,” said Alice Harrigill, co-owner of Party City in Ridgeland and Flowood, which stocks more than 400 different styles of costumes. “People start buying Halloween merchandise around the first of September, mainly on the weekends. During the last two weeks leading up to Halloween, it’s busy every day of the week.”

Cindy Childes, director of marketing for the Mall at Barnes Crossing in Tupelo, said Halloween “gives a nice boost” to retail sales in the lag time between back-to-school and winter holiday events. But more importantly, traffic increases approximately 75% on the night the mall’s 90 retailers dole out candy and coupons to trick-or-treaters. Kid-friendly magic shows take place in the state’s largest food court, which also sees a significant revenue boost.

“I couldn’t believe how tremendous traffic was on Halloween my first year here,” she said. “Parents feel comfortable bringing their kids because it’s well lighted and secure. It’s a good atmosphere, especially if it’s rainy or cold outside. It’s better than being in the car, going door-to-door, plus you run into friends at the mall.”

According to the National Confectioners Association, Halloween accounts for the highest candy sales of all holidays, with a quarter of all candy sold annually between September 15 and November 10. Southerners will spend an average of $17 passing out sweets.

“We get a lot of walk-in business, with people buying treats to give to neighbors and friends,” said Aven Whittington, catering manager for Bravo! and Broad Street Bakery in Jackson. “We cater a couple of parties every year, and it’s always a fun and welcome addition to our business.”

In all, nearly $50 each will be spent on Halloween merchandise, including $10 on greeting cards. (Halloween now accounts for $140 million in greeting card sales.)
Recognized as the third-largest party day after New Year’s and Super Bowl Sunday, one of four adults plans to party-hop before midnight. About 15% expect to visit a haunted house or jump on a hayride.

“We’re seeing growth in Halloween participation from young adults who don’t have children,” said NRF spokesperson Ellen Davis. “These aren’t 14 or 15 year olds. These are young people that don’t define Halloween the same way children do. They might have a more racy definition for Halloween.”

Young adults ages 18-24 will increase their spending by 30% this year over last, from $39 to $51. Spending by 25-34 year-olds is expected to rise 14%.

“We have an entire section geared to that age group,” said Harrigill. “This is our first year to do that, and we’ve seen really good sales. The teen segment is also doing really well this year. Baby boomers like to party, too, but they come in mainly for costumes to wear to private parties. Women usually go for witch costumes, while the guys go for something funny, like Shark Attack or pimp costumes like Big Daddy.”

Superheroes remain immensely popular costumes for the thirty something crowd, from Catwoman to Superman, said Robert Moulder, manager of Jaki’s Costumes and Party World in Jackson. “I think it’s because of the boy/girl thing,” he said.

Halloween maintains its spot as one of the biggest decorating holidays of the year, second only to Christmas, with 60% of consumers planning to purchase decorations, 38% carving pumpkins, and almost half (48%) expected to decorate their home or yard in traditional orange and black and spider-web white colors. Consumers will spend $840 million on decorations.

“People are not skipping over Halloween and Thanksgiving as they used to,” said Childes. “They seem to focus more on home entertainment.”

Because it is not a traditional gift-giving holiday, Halloween remains the sixth-largest spending holiday after winter holidays ($435 billion), Valentine’s Day ($13 billion), Mother’s Day ($11 billion), Easter ($10 billion) and Father’s Day ($8 billion).

By comparison, consumers spend $48 billion on back-to-school goods and nearly $6 billion on Super Bowl-related merchandise. St. Patrick’s Day warrants a distant ninth place, accounting for just under $2 billion in sales.

“Halloween is certainly a nice introduction to the fourth quarter,” said Davis.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.

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