This year, Halloween retailers are getting spooked, but not in a good way. Halloween—traditionally one of the most popular holidays in terms of retail spend—will look considerably different this year due to COVID. Combined with consumer trend forecasts for diminished Back-to-School spending, this fall is shaping up to be filled with uncertainty for retailers, consumers and the economy at large. What could Halloween look like with social distancing? How will unprecedented levels of uncertainty affect consumer confidence? And where does what promises to be a very contentious Presidential election fit into all of this?

Lots of Tricks, Fewer Treats for Retailers

In 2019, Americans shelled out an eye-popping $8.8 billion for Halloween. As seasonal stores like Spirit Halloween begin popping up again, concerns about COVID have Americans thinking twice about how to celebrate. It’s unlikely that restaurants and bars will be open by then, which cuts into a huge revenue driver—Halloween parties traditionally draw huge adult crowds. But despite the fact that adults may have a harder time celebrating, many experts are still optimistic that Halloween could still happen, albeit in a different way. Just ask Spirit Halloween.

A recent New York Times article quoted a representative from the National Confectioners Association, the leading trade group for candy makers whose leadership were optimistic that this year’s Halloween season would be a success, and that people would “plan to come up with safe and creative ways to celebrate.”

Celebrating Halloween Safely

There are already lots of great ideas for how to celebrate Halloween. It’s easy to imagine many of these becoming consumer trends this year maybe even beyond. For example:

Reverse Trick or Treating

Instead of having kids go door-to-door, reverse trick-or-treating would see kids dress up and hang out on their porch. Adults would then go by, safely dropping candy in boxes. It eliminates a lot of inherent risk, and makes social distancing easier to manage. As an added bonus, it gives adults a little more exercise, to burn off all those candy calories.

Trunk or Treat

Even before COVID, this consumer trend had been gaining in popularity during the last few years. Adults decorate their cars in spooky, Halloween designs, assemble in a parking lot, and let the kids go from car to car, collecting candy. Party City listed some great car design ideas here.

Neighborhood Parades

Another safe alternative to traditional trick-or-treating is neighborhood parades. They give kids (and adults too) a chance to show off their costume, while eliminating the whole door-to-door aspect.

Election 2020 Adds to the Uncertainty

One thing that is definitely more frightening than Halloween: political polarization. Right now it’s at its highest in decades, and the divisiveness is a big reason why the 2020 election is shaping up to be the most contentious and vicious in our lifetime. The polarization is even affecting retailers. How? In the age of social media, more and more brands are taking stands.

According to Retail TouchPoints, 40% of Americans say the 2020 election will impact brands they shop with. And a whopping 90% of retailers will be making changes to the way they market due to the Presidential election. Most Americans can remember a time when corporations were largely apolitical (you only need to go back about ten years or so). But now, amplified by social media feeds, we have brands on the right (Hobby Lobby) and on the left (Patagonia).

Is this a case of corporations taking a bold stand, customers be damned? Hardly. According to a 2019 survey by RetailMeNot, 83% of retailers say taking a stand on social issues is worth the risk, and 83% say that NOT taking a stand can hurt their bottom line. Think of it as a case of brands working to please their most loyal customers, as opposed to staying neutral.

With all that we’re facing, the last 4 months of 2020 are certain to be the most uncertain time we’ve seen in ages. With COVID keeping retailers on the sidelines, a Halloween season that’s more trick than treat, and a bitter Presidential election, it’s alright if you’re feeling uncertain.

What are your thoughts on the fall consumer trends? Are you planning anything different for Halloween? Let us know…we want to hear from you.

The post COVID Makes for a Truly Scary Halloween Season for Retailers appeared first on SPAR Inc..