Dracula goes Digital: The Online Halloween Costume Industry

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

 

9 comments

  1. Sheritta Coleburn · ·

    Great Post! I also do find myself looking for a Halloween costume last minute. I think It was probably one year that I planned out a Halloween costume, only because it was a group effort. As a brick a mortar Halloween store can be costly, and just really look at increased profits during the September to October months, I can see in the coming years that more businesses will leverage social media to reach a bigger target market. Shipping costs would be the biggest concern for these businesses and hopefully, they will be ready for last-minute shoppers like ourselves.

  2. I relate to this post a lot! Last week my roommates and I sat in Eagles scrolling through social media to figure out what we wanted to be for halloween. When we decided, we immediately went to Amazon to order inflatable donuts (we were Dunkin Donuts) because we wanted the free, two day shipping. Without the inspiration from social media, and shipping from Amazon Prime our halloween costume probably would not have come together. Still, I wonder whether parents are less likely to shop online for their child’s halloween costume? When I was little, I use to get so excited when my parents brought me to Party City to choose from all of the costumes on the wall. While I see our generation shopping more online, I think that there is still something special about going to the store when you are young and trying on the different costumes. Great post!

  3. I really enjoyed (and related with) this post! I think that it is really hard in today’s world to be original and current. With such easy access to instant information, new ideas and memes are constantly being created and shared. This aspect of society definitely makes it harder to plan ahead for a relevant Halloween costume. Furthermore, I really liked how you were able to incorporate your own experience with this topic.

  4. taylorvanhare · ·

    Great post, and super relevant as I know most people can relate to that last minute costume scramble. What I thought was most interesting was the information you provided on the relevancy of Halloween costumes these days. Usually the funnest or wittiest costumes are based off memes (like you mentioned) or popular T.V. series characters (GOT anyone?). Now these days it isn’t enough to be things of the past – one’s Halloween costume has to be relevant to some aspect of pop culture or social media. Like @alyssacasale4 mentioned, it seems like the days of begging my mom to take me to the costume store to try on every princess dress known to man might be gone for the upcoming generations…

  5. briandentonbc · ·

    Great post! My roommates and I can certainly relate to trying to find costumes last minute. Unlike the Christmas season which seems to start months before December 25th, the “Halloween season” for many people is usually just the week of. That makes online shopping and free/fast shipping much more relevant. In addition, I think the rise of social media will continue to benefit the Halloween/costume industry. My Instagram feed was filled all weekend with everyone sharing pictures of their Halloween costumes. Social media is another added element that will persuade people to try and make their costumes that much more perfect, and maybe spend a little more on a costume online because of it.

  6. Hilary_Gould · ·

    Such a relevant post! This was the first year I wasn’t scrambling at the last minute (thanks to my Halloween loving roommate). One change I noticed this year was the decrease in number of random pop up halloween stores. Where I live, starting in September, these random costume stores you’d never heard of would open up in a random strip mall. I’ve noticed the decline of this and can only think that ecommerce must be the reason. These costume stores can now just operate as a website reducing the amount of labor and costs of renting space. Although some people might fear their costume wont fit or look right when ordering online, I imagine that companies can combat this by offering free shipping and returns. Crazy to think how this super seasonal, but still large industry is changing with the rise in online shopping!

  7. kaitlinardiff · ·

    Great post! I hate to admit it, but last year I dressed up as the Toast Snapchat filter, evidently succumbing to the latest trends. My costume wouldn’t had been what it was if it wasn’t for Pinterest boards filled with inspiration and construction tutorial videos on YouTube. The Internet itself even allows for a quick memory refresher, if nothing else. Forget what Regina George wore during Mean Girls? Simply Google the scene and the exact outfit will appear in your search results, ready for you to copy. It leads me to wonder if now our creativity with costumes has increased as we can easily mimic known characters that we repeatedly see online through memes, Netflix, etc. Just image the horror that our parents went through of needing to have a great memory recall or popping in a DVD for a quick refresh to build a costume!

  8. Interesting post. I wonder if the percents buying online/ off by age mirror regular retail preferences.

  9. sejackson33 · ·

    Great post! I am surprised that the pop up stores that Hilary was talking about are not more consolidated. I think it would be best if one or a few Halloween companies had an online store–running all year round and the pop up stores during the season. Especially on college campuses, I think there is a push to order online because of the convenience–there are endless options, it takes overall less time, and you don’t have to leave campus to acquire the costume. However, it looks like the majority of young people are still going to stores. It will be interesting to see if this shifts.

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