CHICAGO — With a less-than-thrilling holiday shopping season on the horizon, retailers are pinning their hopes on a booming Halloween.
The spooky holiday is expected to generate record sales this year as consumers look for an escape from the gloomy financial news. More Americans are dressing up, throwing parties and decorating their homes and front lawns as the urge to splurge overshadows broader economic troubles.
A record 69 percent of Americans intend to participate in Halloween this year, according to an annual survey from the Washington, D.C.-based National Retail Federation. Roughly 44 percent of survey respondents plan to don a costume, up from 40 percent in 2010, and 34 percent plan to throw or attend a party, up from 33 percent last year.
Total spending for the holiday is expected to reach $6.86 billion, the highest in the 10 years the retail trade group has been conducting the survey.
The average person plans to spend $72.31 on decorations, costumes and candy, up from $66.28 last year, the survey said.
“It’s a light-hearted holiday and with all the stress and bad stuff going on in the world, it’s a way to forget,” said Ken Alterman, CEO of Savers Inc., a Bellevue, Wash.-based thrift store chain that operates an in-store Halloween costume boutique. “Halloween has grown tremendously in the past five years, so we have made it a bigger part of our selection.”
Adults have been taking over Halloween for the past decade, and the momentum keeps building. To feed the demand, Halloween pop-up stores continue to spread across the country, taking up dead space vacated by defunct retailers such as Borders and Circuit City.
The number of temporary, or pop-up stores, dedicated to Halloween merchandise rose an estimated 8 percent this year from 2010, according to IBISWorld Inc. Last year, the pop-up shops expanded by 15 percent, the Los Angeles-based market research firm estimated.
Drive by any strip mall or empty big-box store and you can’t help but spot them: Spencer’s Spirit Halloween, Party City’s Halloween City, Halloween Express, Halloween Adventure, Halloween Warehouse, to name a few.
“When the economy isn’t good, Halloween is an inexpensive, fun family holiday,” said Christina Norsig, CEO and founder of PopUpInsider, a national online exchange for temporary real estate that works with Halloween pop-up stores. “I’m amazed at how much merchandise there is. It’s everywhere.”
Much like “Christmas Creep,” the term coined to describe selling holiday goods months before Thanksgiving, Halloween merchandise began appearing in stores and online before the school year began. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Sears Holdings Corp.’s Kmart got a jump on the season around Labor Day.
Target Corp. began offering Halloween products in stores by early September and online in August. The cheap-chic discount chain launched an “aggressive” marketing campaign for Halloween home decor in particular, hoping to “capture an even larger portion” of the nation’s Halloween business, said Target’s then-Chief Marketing Officer Michael Francis at an August financial meeting.
Spending on Halloween home decorations is now second only to spending on Christmas decorations, according to the National Retail Federation.
Among the most popular costumes this year: zombies and Charlie Sheen.
For the past two years, Stacy Britt has donned standard Halloween costumes. She was a cop last year and a witch the year before that. This year the 32-year-old wife and mother said she is “looking to top that.”
Britt rifled through the wigs and capes at the Halloween department at Savers thrift store in Downers Grove on Wednesday, looking for inspiration. She plans to spend no more than $100 on her costume and is having a blast scouring the stores for ideas.
“Halloween is my favorite holiday,” said Britt. “You get all the fun without all of the responsibility of Christmas.”