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Beyond the pumpkins: the data behind Halloween

By / / In Insight /
In the UK, it has leapfrogged Valentine’s Day as the third biggest retail event of the year and, in the USA, 72% of adults polled say they will be joining in the Halloween holiday capers. Around the world, this celebration of all things spooky has become hugely popular – and thus is a major opportunity for retailers. Here’s some data behind Halloween and a look at what it’s all about.
data behind Halloween

October 31st – all hail, All Hallow’s Eve!

Well, not all will hail – some people are not keen to observe this (arguably) Celtic celebration, or the more modern inclination to paint one’s face green, carve pumpkins or knock on neighbours’ doors for candy hand-outs.

data behind Halloween

Data supplied by the Office for National Statistics.

But did you know that there really are witches walking among us? According to the England and Wales census of 2011, there were 1,276 people who classed their religion specifically as witchcraft. Around 100,000 people claimed to be worshippers of cults and movements such as pagan, occult, druid or wicca (which is an update on pagan witchcraft, as Wikipedia explains).

Whether your name is Sabrina or Salem or you couldn’t care less either way, this autumnal celebration is actually taken very seriously by many: Latin American people mark Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead), in a tradition that is observed similarly from China to Czechoslovakia, Japan to Germany and beyond, with festivals and parties lit by lanterns, candles and bonfires – honouring deceased loved ones and ancestors . .  and hoping to keep on the right side of the spooks.

From a retail point of view, Halloween was once seen as more high profile in America than elsewhere: an annual poll by the National Retail Federation (NRF)  revealed that 72% of US adults – that’s about 179 million people – say they are marking the holiday this year (ie, by spending money). It seems there are millions, globally, who enjoy trick or treating and fancy dress parties as a bit of fun to lighten this darkening time of year.halloween

Apparently, a glowing pumpkin in the window of your home will attract trick-or-treaters to your door, but if you’re not one who delights in frightening others half to death, you can opt-out in the UK by sticking up a poster available via police websites to deter the pranksters.

Whatever your opinion, Halloween has overtaken Valentine’s Day among Brits as the third biggest retail event, according to statistics from eBay, proving it’s a great sales opportunity for both confectionery and non-food retailers, on the heels of late summer’s back-to-school and in the run-up to the mega winter holiday season.

So, who’s successfully getting into the spirit of things, if you’ll pardon the first of a few puns, who is flailing and failing and who hasn’t yet sunk their teeth into Halloween hocus-pocus?

Originally a children’s event, now adults are getting down with the kids and even pets are not left behind, with ten per cent of US consumers saying they will be dressing their pet as a pumpkin! (Great idea . . . here, Tiddles . . . )

According to US data from Quantcast, it’s unsurprisingly women and children who are searching online for Halloween costumes, recipes ideas and party themes – 67 per cent of searches are by women and 55% by the youngsters . . . and it’s the millennials in particular who are dressing for the occasion (as the data below reveals).


On the (black) catwalk

Having the relevant outfit, of course, is vital. Celebrities lead the way (as ever) – every year, a party is thrown by BBC presenter Jonathan Ross and generally attracts more than a few clowns among the walking dead, ghosts and skeletons. The less adventurous among us might just opt for a themed T-shirt.Halloween



But Pennywise (below right), the sinister dancing clown from Stephen King’s horror novel ‘It’, will seem to be everywhere this Halloween, according to a Google search for ‘Halloween 2017 outfits’ – which features thousands of images of frowning clowns among vamps, tramps, mermaids and unicorns. The bloodthirsty villain only re-emerged from the sewer and into cinemas this summer, but ‘saves’ on wishlist app Pinterest for clown make-up and costume ideas are up a whopping 941% year-on-year and retailers have been quick to jump on that fashion bandwagon.

Even I now have pom-poms on my trainers . . .

HalloweenPinterest, together with fashion marketplace Lyst, crunched the data, analysing 180million Pinterest searches, to predict a top ten of fancy dress costumes stalking the streets this October – the clown’s Elizabethan ruffles and pom-pom sneakers will be de rigueur, as will trucker caps and 1980s print T-shirts, in line with the casual style of characters in the ‘Stranger Things’ movie. Beauty and the Beast, Game of Thrones and Wonder Woman outfits also fit the bill.

Mintel reports that 40% of Brits will splash some cash on Halloween. Alice Goody, retail analyst at Mintel, said: “For millennials who grew up celebrating Halloween, this nostalgic event provides a good excuse for a party, driving retail spend on food and drink, as well as money on going out. Capturing the imagination of these young consumers is key to driving the growth of Halloween, as not only are they buying more items and spending more on average than other generations, but the vast majority agree that they enjoy taking part in the event.”

The data behind Halloween says ‘get your ghoul on’!

According to data from, Brits made more than two million searches for ‘Halloween costume’ on the site in the month prior to Halloween last year and they have been planning their party-going ghoulish garb earlier – outfits for ladies and men as well as babies and youngsters all featured among the top 20 eBay searches in the fancy dress category in three months from July last year.

In fact, they are getting bolder in their choices – ‘Halloween contacts, ‘Zombie contact lenses’ and ‘Halloween eyelashes’ were among the most searched-for terms in the make-up category between July and October.

But still, the third weekend of October last year saw a peak in last-minute searches for ‘Halloween costume’, registering a 67% increase compared with the first weekend of the month. And, during the same period, searches for ‘pumpkin’ and ‘skeleton’ leapt 49% and 110% respectively as party-goers hurried to add those quaint little finishing touches to their home decor! Less picky searches for ‘Halloween decorations’ (187% by women) reached a peak two weeks prior to the main event, but more discerning shoppers made some 17,000 searches (87% of them by men) for ‘fog machine’ during October. The boys were also very interested in movie projectors (167%) and scaring the wits out of their visitors, with 126% more searches for ‘Scream’. 

Lorna Dunne, head of Fashion Business Development at eBay, said: “When it comes to the fancy dress category, Halloween is one of the biggest revenue drivers every year. But it’s also a growing opportunity for retailers across the fashion and beauty – and even consumer electronics – sectors, as consumers continue to push the boundaries with their outfit and party efforts.

“For sellers, the key is to ensure they’re catering for all audiences this Halloween – from kids through to grandparents. And, of course, make sure inventory is stocked accordingly to support even those searching for their perfect outfit at the 11th hour.”

Events marketing and planning ahead

Recently published ONS figures saw retailers posting unexpected growth in August, traditionally a quieter shopping period, suggesting that retailers should take the hint and the initiative and to prepare earlier for the busiest period in the retail calendar.

Hugh Fletcher, global head of consultancy and innovation at e-commerce consultancy Salmon, also called for a focus on convenience and innovation. He said: “It’s unsurprising to see online retail experiencing continued year-on-year growth (15.6%) as shoppers crave greater convenience in their daily routines.

“It’s vital retailers start to look ahead to the next peak trading period and ensure they are ready to capitalise. Events like Black Friday and Christmas, and increasingly Halloween for some retailers, offer huge opportunities to reap additional gains.

“But as consumers look to purchase items they want, not need, a focus on online and innovation will be absolutely paramount – in fact, our own research found that 60% would more likely shop with ‘digitally innovative’ retailers. This is all about accessibility and convenience.

“The quicker and easier it is to buy from a retailer, the more popular that retailer will be – online, mobile and digital offerings across the board are therefore vital.

“If retailers can combine a peak period with being the easiest way to shop, they are going to win and the kind of success seen over the summer will continue into autumn and winter.”

Remember, remember – treat, not trick, via email

By the time you read this, of course, your marketing for this Halloween will doubtless be in action, if not over already, and consumers in the UK are looking to the fifth of November and Guy Fawkes Night for their next round of entertainment. But here’s advice to bear in mind for Halloween email campaigns 2018.

Chicago-based Yes Lifecycle Marketing has released a holiday email marketing guide examining open rates. It showed that, last year, Halloween hit an all-time high in consumer spending – reaching a total of US$8.4billion in revenue (the figure has risen to $9.1bn this year, according to the NRF – see the charts below). Despite this, just 27% of marketers sent Halloween emails.

The guide by Yes Lifecycle Marketing also revealed that email recipients are not fooled into opening Halloween-themed messages that have clichéd subject lines, using words such as ‘spooky’ or ‘trick’. They want to see actual benefits – a limited edition of Halloween-specific items perhaps, or a flash sale; a clearly evident discount or a savings deal. Halloween emails without an offer in the subject line, which accounted for more than half (53.9%) of all Halloween messages, generated a 36% lower open rate than business-as-usual (BAU) emails. That miserable data behind Halloween is enough to make a ghoul shudder . . .data behind Halloween

data behind HalloweenHowever, below are a couple of emailers who do know how to ‘treat’ their customers: this email from Domino’s last year included creative copy and design touches that conveyed the Halloween theme. Even though pizza may not be directly related to this particular holiday, incorporating the theme into a promotional email that was deployed on Halloween proved effective in capturing subscribers’ attention and resulted in a high conversion rate.

Similarly, Party City sent a value-added email that inspired ideas for a memorable Halloween party. The bright images, creative copy and prominent ‘free shipping’ offer got subscribers clicking and led to a 114% higher conversion rate than the brand’s BAU emails.

data behind Halloween

Key takeaway for 2018 emailers:

Tempt consumers by making an appealing offer or call-to-action in the subject line alongside but not instead of creative language – cheesy clichés alone will not spur action or increase open rates and click-throughs.

The Yes Lifecycle Marketing guide concluded: ‘Beyond the initial open, getting subscribers to click on an email requires creative that compels action. To increase conversions, marketers can include a strong offer and pair it with a subject line that conveys urgency. Communicating urgency through the use of reminders of a sale ending or a delivery milestone is an effective tactic to prompt subscribers to act. As mobile purchasing continues to grow, marketers need to make the mobile experience a top priority. Deploying emails with concise subject lines and eye-catching calls-to-action that drive consumers to an intuitive mobile app or mobile site will provide a seamless purchase experience and minimise attrition from on-the-go shoppers.

‘All in all, the general performance of holiday emails in 2016 highlights the importance of creating emails that truly resonate with subscribers. Marketers who plan on developing an audience-focused holiday plan well in advance of Q4 would be positioned to drive the greatest conversions and ROI throughout the critical season.’

Delightful not frightful: spend data behind Halloween shows increasing retail successdata behind Halloween

data behind Halloween

The NRF survey in the US shows a steady increase in shopper spend, year-on-year.

All of the above proves that retailers – even the doubters – should be serious about celebrating Halloween and with increasing gusto, as it is clearly not a fad. Since the recession receded, there is a need to celebrate and mark every opportunity to have fun. Consumers can see Christmas around the corner – with its attendant stresses and strains on the purse-strings – but Halloween is relatively cheap by comparison: a few bags of sweets, a couple of fluffy spiders and scooped-out pumpkin in a pie for tea for a week (yuk) and you’re in with the crowd. Alternatively, push the boat out, get a red wig and just pretend to be Pennywise.

Either way, retailers planning their campaigns with a careful eye on creative, in advance and with the user’s online ‘accessibility and convenience’ front-of-mind, can thwart the grim reaper and reap the rewards.

Have an opinion on this article? Please join in the discussion: the GMA is a community of data driven marketers and YOUR opinion counts.

Read also:

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Real-time marketing can benefit your business – here’s how

Sally Hooton
Author: Sally Hooton
Editor at The GMA |

Trained as a journalist from the age of 18 and enjoying a long career in regional newspaper reporting and editing, Sally Hooton joined DMI (Direct Marketing International) magazine as editor in 2001. DMI then morphed into The GMA, taking her with it!

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