Spending on Halloween has more than doubled in the last ten years to nearly $7.0 billion. For decades, Halloween was geared towards kids and most spending was on candy, cheap costumes and some decorations. However, Halloween is now the 6th most important retail holiday and it’s thanks to Millennials.

According to the National Retail Federation, over 157 million are expected to celebrate Halloween – and over 8 in 10 Millennials. Considering kids under 18 (73 million) and Millennials (over 83 million), this represents almost all expected Halloween revelers. If you examine spending, all the spending increase in the last 10 years is on adult costumes (over $1.2 billion), costumes for pets ($400 million) and decorations (nearly $1.9 billion). Nearly 70 million adults will dress up in costumes (83% are Millennials) and consumers will dress up nearly 20 million pets. On the other hand, candy spending has stayed relatively flat at just over $2.2 billion.

Retailers have embraced Halloween and have created “impulse buying” standalone Halloween stores to tempt adults (mostly Millennials) to buy costumes and decorations for parties and events. Retailer Spirit Halloween puts up over 1,150 temporary locations in malls and other locations throughout the United States [with over 108 in Southern California]. Party City, adds over 300 temporary Halloween City Stores to augment Halloween spending at its main stores. Party City cites that nearly 25% of its annual revenue comes from Halloween spending.

Self-Expression and Social Experience

Why is Halloween such an important holiday for Millennials? There are two main reasons. First, Millennials, more than any other generation, embrace self-expression. They are children of social media and are much more self-expressive than Boomers or GenX’ers. Often they’re an open book and are willing to embrace other personas – and Halloween provides them that opportunity. Second, more than anyone else, Millennials are about “the experience”. They share experiences on social media and they value experiences with friends or family beyond status symbols that drive boomers. Hence, Halloween is perfect for Millennials. They can be someone else and share the experience with friends – at parties or real time on social media. In fact, 70% of all Millennials (over 55 million) plan to attend a party vs. less than 40% for boomers and GenX’ers.

As an example of this cultural shift, just look at shopping for costumes. Just over a decade ago getting costume ideas and shopping was done in store. Today, only 27% of ideas are generated in-store while 35% are through online stores and the rest through social media, with Pinterest driving over 13% of all ideas. In fact, nearly 25% of all Millennials got their costume idea via Pinterest – more than double from last year. Facebook, Instagram and YouTube follow very closely. Other adults derive less than 13% of their costume ideas from social media.

Media Motivates Millennials

To enhance and define experiences, Hollywood, television and the video game industry have made zombies, vampires and other ghouls extremely desirable. Millennials have grown up with zombies (e.g., the Walking Dead) and other dark creatures in ways that other generations haven’t. Therefore, they expect to live these experiences through parties, haunted houses and theme parks focusing on Halloween during the early fall.

Theme Parks like Knott’s Berry Farm near Disneyland have dedicated areas for Halloween revelers. Their “Scary Farm” helps generate 15% of the company’s annual revenue since there is a separate $39.99 fee to enter. Six Flags Magic Mountain has Fright Fest, which runs through Halloween. There are more haunted houses catering to young adults than ever before. Halloween has become the defining Millennial holiday. And this spending isn’t factored into the $7 billion tracked by the National Retail Federation.

One could say that Halloween is the first social media holiday. Why? Because social media is used to plan and coordinate Halloween activities as much as to capture memories and experiences.

Anticipating Halloween

Finally, consumers have started purchasing Halloween merchandise earlier than ever before. In fact, Halloween is the real start of fall. Consumer minds shift from summer to cooler days. When it comes to planning, over 34% of consumers start shopping for Halloween in September, 41% in the first two weeks in October and the remaining 25% wait for the final two weeks leading up to Halloween. Since all Halloween merchandise is specialized, discounts of 50% or more appear during this time. Good for savings but the selection is much more limited. Some retailers, like Costco, have Halloween displays up at the same time as Back-to-School. They’re targeting both parents and Millennials

Rising from a small niche holiday to an important holiday for retailers and consumers, especially Millennials, Halloween is now a tent pole holiday on the retail calendar. Many saw the potential around Halloween but marketers needed social media and Millennials to make Halloween a really big holiday.

We would love to hear your thoughts about Halloween being a quintessentially Millennial holiday? Do you agree?

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