If you’re anything like me, you waited until about two days ago to order your halloween costume and are now just praying to the Amazon Prime gods that your package will arrive before the holiday is over. I do this routine of waiting until the absolute last minute to order my costume pretty much every year, and every year, I ask myself why I always do this to myself. Maybe I like stressing myself out, maybe I like paying the exorbitant overnight shipping prices, but more than likely it’s just that most days, I can barely decide what I want to eat for lunch, much less decide on a halloween costume weeks in advance of the actual holiday.
This stressful experience however, got me thinking more in-depth about the Halloween costume industry. Are they making more of a switch to digital to reach more customers if they only can make money seasonally? Is social media changing the shape of the Halloween costume industry?
Although Halloween shopping is generally only done between the beginning of September and the end of October every year, the Halloween industry is a scary big business. Americans are expected to spend around $9.1 billion dollars this year on everything Halloween (costumes, candies, decorations etc.); an 8.3% increase over last year’s Halloween spending.
But where do consumers go to spend a large chunk of that money, specifically on costumes? A survey by Blue Mountain Media found that a striking 99% of consumers 55 and older prefer to buy costumes in-store while 39% of consumers between 18 and 55 prefer to buy costumes online. Additionally, 57% of respondents cited free shipping as the most important factor when deciding to buy costumes online. This is where e-commerce giants like Amazon shine and can outpace their competition in the Halloween costume industry.
Interestingly, the National Retail Federation also found that while consumers are spending more on Halloween overall, they are actually spending less per person, at an average of $74.34, compared to $77.52 last year. Blue Mountain Media’s Director of Marketing was quick to point out that spending less doesn’t necessarily mean a decreased interest in the Halloween market however: “What are the benefits of shopping online? More products at better prices. [Consumers] may be spending less but spending smarter and using the web as a tool.”
Which retailer has been the most successful at gaining customers online (excluding Amazon as they are basically a platform connecting costume shops to customers and do not have their own line of costumes)? While this is tough to say, we can gain some insights by looking at who is spending the most on Google AdWords. A study done by AdGuru found that CostumeExpress.com, Target.com, and SpiritHalloween.com basically have a three-way tie in regards of most share clicks with 10.23%, 10.18%, and 10.13% of share clicks respectively.
To find the ghoulish origins of Halloween spending one often does not have to look any further than our old friend, social media. In the study done by the National Retail Foundation, 64.6% of respondents claimed that they look through social media for inspirations for their Halloween costumes. This is quite drastic because as early as two years ago, only 44% of respondents claimed to look through social media for costume inspirations.
The importance social media has played in growing the Halloween industry is monumental. Glamour Magazine has an entire article dedicated to giving readers step-by-step tutorials on creating the “most popular Snapchat filter Halloween costumes,” there are countless websites suggesting the best meme Halloween costumes for 2017, and plenty of celebrities post their Halloween looks on their Instagram accounts (see Heidi Klum’s halloween hashtag for her craziest Halloween looks) for all to see.
However, this rising trend to find inspiration for Halloween costumes on social media also comes with some costs. Halloween costumes now must be timely in addition to being creative. An article by USA Today claims that “Costumes are celebrated and critiqued as fast as Internet memes, bits of viral culture that quickly rise then flame out.” In effect, if you choose to dress up as a meme that went viral 6 months ago, you are probably not going to be winning any costume contests.
One relevant example of this I have experienced myself is when my friend and I decided to go as the popular app “Yik Yak” our freshman year of college. This was back in 2014 when the popularity of the app was at its peak and since our social media-based costume was timely, we received compliments throughout the night. Had we tried to dress up as Yik Yak this year however, I think we would have received more blank stares than praises (photo below in case you needed a visual).
So what’s the moral of the story for Halloween costume businesses then? Get online (both a website and a social media presence), reach out to those consumers under the age of 55 who prefer shopping this way, offer free shipping or discounted shipping for Halloween, and provide timely costumes to capitalize on the latest social media trends. It will be interesting to see where the Halloween market goes in the future but if costume businesses can do those four things really well, then I wouldn’t be surprised if the industry continues to see spooktacular gains.