Halloween Will Go On—but Trick-or-Treaters May Have to Buy Their Own Candy

Participation and spend will drop slightly, but consumers will find a way to modify the holiday

Illustration of a virtual Halloween
It will be an uncertain season, but brands can connect with consumers via nostalgia for Halloweens of yore. Kacy Burdette
Headshot of Lisa Lacy

For once in 2020, there’s some good news: Halloween is not canceled this year.

But, no surprises here, it won’t be Halloween as usual, which creates—pardon the pun—potential for a scary holiday for brands and retailers. If, however, they tap into consumer nostalgia, they should be OK.

According to a survey from the National Retail Federation (NRF), more than 75% of consumers say the pandemic will impact their Halloween plans and participation in holiday activities like parties, trick-or-treating and haunted houses will drop to 58%. That’s down from 68% in 2019. However, this year, 17% of consumers say they have virtual celebration plans, too.

As a result, consumer spend is expected to decline to about $8 billion from $8.8 billion last year. But the consumers who will shop for Halloween will spend slightly more on decorations, candy and greeting cards: $92 on average, per the NRF’s figures, which is about $6 more than the average spend in 2019.

Consumers are also shopping for Halloween earlier this year, with four in 10 saying they plan to make Halloween purchases in September—or had already done so earlier. As we’ve seen throughout 2020, there will be an uptick in online shopping for Halloween as well, with 30% of consumers planning to buy Halloween goods online, which is up from 25% in 2019.

Safe, not spooky

Naturally, the focus for consumers this year is safety. The NRF found 148 million adults in the U.S. will celebrate Halloween in some fashion, but it was safe at-home activities that ranked highest on their lists: 53% plan to decorate their homes, 46% plan to carve a pumpkin and 18% will dress up their pet. (The most popular pet costumes include pumpkins, hot dogs and superheroes.)

The impact on candy is less clear. Last year, 69% of respondents told the NRF they planned to hand out candy—and they spent $2.6 billion on it.

Based on customer purchase data from Easter 2020, however, market research firm Numerator said to expect a 13% drop in Halloween candy sales as 52% of consumers say they will buy fewer treats. But candy brands shouldn’t necessarily panic: Numerator found consumers will react by simply buying more candy for themselves. In fact, 62% of consumers said they plan to purchase Halloween candy or snacks for their household, which is up from 56% last year.

The National Confectioners Association (NCA), on the other hand, said as of the month ending Sept. 6, Halloween candy sales are actually up 13% so far compared to last year.

Kate Muhl, an analyst specializing in cultural and consumer insights at Gartner, said parents are more worried about the economic and social impacts of the pandemic than the pandemic itself at this point.

“Our coronavirus concerns research has shown that parents with kids in the house are less worried about the outbreak overall, compared to empty nesters, grandparents and non-parents,” she said. “And they’re more likely to be concerned about economic factors, like the U.S. economy, U.S. unemployment rate and rising prices.”

As a result, Muhl said safety concerns will be unlikely to slow families down this Halloween.

“More likely, it’ll just change the methods and modes of celebrating,” she said.

While the “candy extravaganzas” we have grown accustomed to may not materialize in 2020, Muhl said communities will likely find a way to continue the trick-or-treating tradition in some way.

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@lisalacy lisa.lacy@adweek.com Lisa Lacy is a senior writer at Adweek, where she focuses on retail and the growing reach of Amazon.