Recent stock market gyrations may have spooked consumers, but you wouldn't know it from the way they're preparing to celebrate Halloween.
Americans expect to spend almost $65 apiece this year for candy, costumes, and decorations, up from $59 last year, according to a report recently released by the National Retail Federation.
This sounding should cheer retailers, who have become increasingly cautious about holiday spending in the all-important months leading up to Christmas. Over the weekend, the NRF released a Port Tracker report showing that container traffic entering American ports was slightly behind last year in late summer, indicating a cautious outlook by the sector. Concerns may mount about Christmas spending, which accounts for almost 20% of all retail outlays, but at least it looks like the consumer is happy to open her wallet to appease and entertain all those ghosts and goblins that may come trick-or-treating.
Maybe it's the gigantic success of Harry Potter, or a desire to escape reality – or maybe it's just that boomers refuse to grow up. Whatever the reason, it appears that Americans are embracing Halloween as never before. One area of especial emphasis is ghoulish home decorations.
That's the message from the founder of consulting firm Unity Marketing, Pam Danziger, who just produced a study on the subject. She says the nation spent $3.2 billion last year on Halloween decorations — up 21% over the 2005 level, and second only to Christmas in terms of outlays.
"Halloween has really come into its own in terms of home decorating. Ten or fifteen years ago the focus was entirely on Christmas." Ms. Danziger says. "Adults are participating more — it's not just about kids anymore."
Ms. Danziger's study contains a demographic breakdown that indicates that more than 60% of those between the ages of 45 and 54 bought some sort of Halloween decoration, and more than half of all boomers found themselves trotting home with inflatable pumpkins or smoking cauldrons. For those incredulous at the total spending in this category, visit Grandinroad, a catalog and Internet site specializing in home décor, including seasonal offerings. At the high end, one can order up a 12-foot "Cryptic Inflatable Castle" complete with gargoyles and ghosts waving from the windows. Total price? A mere $499 – but of course it can be blown up again next year (the neighbors might want to blow it up this year).
Christmas still accounts for about 48% of all spending on holiday decorations, but Halloween is growing faster. This exuberance is not at all in keeping with the general trend in home décor, Ms. Danziger says. Just the opposite. "In the 1990s consumers were into a kind of cocoony lifestyle. Collectibles of all kinds were popular. If their homes had an empty space, they wanted to fill it up," she says. "Now, there's a real shift away from that. People want to get rid of clutter; they want clean sight lines. It's a totally different mind-set. The one exception is seasonal décor. Maybe it's because they don't have to live with it — and it gives them an emotional boost."
Ms. Danziger describes a friend who is a perfect example. "She approaches decorating for Halloween just as seriously as she does for Christmas. She strings lights (orange, not red and green), puts out life-size figures — the whole works. And no, they do not have young kids."
Overall, outlays in America for holiday decorating run about $19.2 billion, of which approximately $5 billion is spent on fall décor, including back-to-school and Thanksgiving.
The bulk of these purchases is made at discount stores such as Target or Wal-Mart. Specialty stores such as Hallmark are also large vendors. It's a welcome growth area for the greeting card companies, as card sales are in a slow, long-term decline, according to Ms. Danziger. She has just completed a study updating sales results in this arena, and the data is not available yet, but the trend is clear. "Greeting cards are such an early Industrial Age method of communication," she says. "There are so many alternatives now."
Halloween is, of course, synonymous with candy and costumes, and outlays in those sectors are expected to grow as well. Those who indulge trick-or-treaters expect to spend almost $20 a person on candy, and an astonishing $36 a person on costumes. Talk about a frightful extravagance.