Halloween Predicts Lower Holiday Sales Through 2009

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Display window at Yankee Trader, Columbus.
Display window at Yankee Trader, Columbus.

Some retailers use sales of Halloween merchandise as a predictor of sales for the critical holiday shopping season. And while it is still early for consumers to purchase masks, costumes and candy, a local researcher predicts sales will be down but not out.

The Yankee Trader costume shop is located across from the convention center in Columbus. There, Halloween sales are just beginning. Employee Misty Tull says people are buying more items, but they are spending less.

“Rather than one piece for $50, an entire costume last year, maybe this year they’ll get some gloves, some hose, some glasses, put it together with something they already have, and they can use it for other costumes as well.”

Gary Drenik, president of BIG research in Worthington says, forget the green shoots noted by top politicians and some economists as indications the recession has ended. Consumers don’t believe it.

“The sign that’s going to demonstrate the recession is over for them is unemployment levels start to decline. And they haven’t seen that. So, that’s a problem for the retail market.”

Drenik says people are worried about their jobs or trying to find a job, and they’re worried about the future. More than half of those surveyed said needs are more important than wants so they are spending primarily on necessities. Still, Drenik says, people have said they will celebrate the holidays.

“There’s going to be a Christmas, there’s going to be a Thanksgiving and Halloween, it’s just not going to be as robust as it was a few years ago.”

Clintonville resident Ellen Fountain and her three children were trying on masks and fake fingers with bright red nail polish at Yankee Trader.

“We like to come down here this time of year and my kids like to pick up trinkets and crazy sorts of things and usually things are pretty well priced.”

Fountain says her family spends moderately for Halloween, preferring to invest more in Christmas.

Drenik says a survey he did for the National Retail Federation indicates people will spend about $10 less this year than the $66 spent last year for Halloween. Projecting that forward into the holiday shopping season, Drenik says retailers will have to use price promotions to try to pull people into stores.

Drenik’s company also tracks costumes for Halloween. He says people seem uninterested in anything related to the hot button topics out of Washington.

“I think we’re sick of any more discussions of health care or politics don’t let that get in the way of a light hearted holiday like Halloween.”

Misty Tull at Yankee Trader has noticed a similar change this year among customers.

“Every year people do ask for politicians, Sarah Palin, everybody wanted to be her last year, but so far, nobody has asked for any politicians whatsoever.”

Drenik’s research indicates this year’s top costume for adults is the witch outfit followed by vampire, pirate and clown. For children, the top costumes are princess, witch, Spiderman, pirate and pumpkin.