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Letter from America: Halloween 2023 – Let’s just move on

Halloween is over. There is still lots of clean-up to do and shelves need to be restocked for the holidays, but data is trickling in about how successful Halloween was for independent stores. The conclusion? Not that great.

At the National Costumers Association, we survey our members each year right after Halloween and ask how things went. This year 70% of respondents to our survey reported that sales of costumes and masks were “somewhat worse” or “much worse” in 2023 compared to 2022.

Why? An open-ended question in the survey asked store owners how they felt overall, and their responses provided some insight.

First, several store owners complained of shipping problems that delayed their stock arrival until October. That was probably an anecdotal problem more than an overall problem — the survey also asked about stocking and only 21% of respondents said they received less than 75% of what they ordered. Nevertheless, this is a problem that lies with the vendors and, hopefully, can be fixed. During Covid we all understood that worldwide shipping was disrupted, but that’s passed now.

Another reason was the fact that Halloween fell on a Tuesday. Kids still want to trick or treat regardless of the day, but a mid-week Halloween definitely lessens the enthusiasm for adult parties… and those corresponding sales. Plus last-minute costume shoppers who had to work on Monday and Tuesday probably were less likely to get to the store.

Inflation was another problem respondents cited – not necessarily inflation in the cost of their own products, but rather inflation on household necessities, which means buyers had less left over for costumes. This may have explained another problem stores reported: Everyone seemed to wait until the last two weeks of October to buy. Maybe they were holding their purses tightly until the last minute.

Finally, of course, lots of people complained about the ultimate bugaboo – Amazon and the big box stores. One respondent said Spirit Halloween opened FIVE stores in his town. Hard to compete against that, at least for shoppers who are spooked by inflation and seeking the cheapest possible costumes.

There were bright spots in the survey. Several respondents said they knew sales would dip after the pent-up demand post-Covid evaporated, so they planned accordingly and stocked a bit less. Those respondents said Halloween lived up to – or rather “down to” – their diminished expectations.

And some respondents reported increased sales this year. About 9% said costume and mask sales were up this year; 12% said sales of accessories and make-up climbed; and 10% said costume rentals were up. Those numbers are not exactly amazing, but it’s good to know that some shops did well this year.

Halloween 2024 will fall on a Thursday night. Not a great night, but certainly better than Tuesday. If I remember my college days correctly — and they ended more than three decades ago – a lot of students considered Thursday night the beginning of the weekend. Let’s hope a lot of people feel that way in 2024 and Halloween is more lively than it was this year.

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