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Halloween Real Time Store Audits: The Good, the Bad, and the Scary

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According to the National Retail Federation, consumer spending on Halloween is predicted to reach $6.9 billion this year, an increase of more than 54 percent since 2005. Much of that spending will go directly to costume costs. The NRF estimates that trick-or-treaters and party-goers alike will spend more than $1 billion on children’s costumes and $1.22 billion on adult costumes this year.  In a saturated market, competition for these dollars is stiff. Retail giants like Walmart and Target, and thousands of Halloween pop-up stores, are all battling for the eye of the consumer this season.

While some shoppers have been planning their Ron Burgundy costumes for weeks, more than a third of costume decisions are made in-store, as quick, impulse purchases. This week, real-time in-store data from GroundCntrl reveals that major retailers and pop-up stores differ a bit in their strategies for how to woo shoppers in the final moments before the holiday.  Pop up stores, while carrying a full inventory of standard costumes at affordable prices, are definitely differentiating by attracting a consumer looking for a more individualized Halloween expression.  The survey is not meant to be statistically representative of the entire US, but it does provide some insights into how different stores are positioning Halloween this year.

GroundCntrl used its mobile data and analytics platform with on-the-ground researchers to audit real-time product on shelf, with prices and photographs from retailers like Walmart, Target, CVS, Walgreens, and Halloween pop-ups in order to identify early trends in shopper experience and behavior. Here’s what GroundCntrl found on the last shopping weekend (Oct, 26 & 27) of the season in four key cities: Boston, Chicago, LA, and San Antonio.

In-Store Marketing Trends: What retailers are pushing this season

Most Promoted  – Major Retailers

Fueled by the success of Iron Man 3, The Avengers, Thor and other blockbusters, superhero costumes were widely promoted on end-caps and in-store signage across the major retailers from Target to Walmart this season. In fact, superhero costumes comprised 35% of the best-looking costume displays we saw.


Princesses topped the National Retail Federation’s list of most popular costumes this year, and came close to beating Justice leaguers like Batman and Superman for the lion’s share of the promotional pie within stores. Fantasy costumes like princesses and pirates ranked second in popularity with a 27% ranking in the stores we visited.  This marketing was fueled mostly by the Disney Princess category as parents and children alike scoured the aisles for Rapunzel, Ariel and the Princess and the Frog’s Tiana.

Best Looking Costume Displays

best looking

Interestingly enough, neither superhero nor fantasy costumes were reserved for children’s sizes alone.  Adult costumes also tapped into the popular categories with high frequency. If you thought your days of donning a cape and super-human muscles were over, major retailers are giving you another chance this Halloween.

Thor guys

Most promoted – Halloween Pop-up Stores

According to IBIS World, there are more than 1,700 Halloween related pop-up stores nationwide – a 30% increase since the research firm started tracking in 2009. This year Halloween pop-up stores diverged from major retailers in the range of costumes they promoted. The major difference between retailers and pop-ups was the focus pop-ups put on non-traditional costumes.

In terms of supply and promotion, superhero costumes only took 6% of the pie in pop-up stores when our researchers sought out costumes that were more creative or noteworthy.  Possibly ceding that category to the big-box retailers, pop-up stores instead focused their attention for individuality on the strange, funny and niche.  A full 38% of the most creative costumes in pop-up stores fell into the “Other” category, aiming to fill the long-tail needs of shoppers who want to step outside of the norm this season.

Looking for Individuality In Pop-Up Stores

most crazy

Costumes within the “other” category ranged significantly, but included:  human bananas, rabbis, human breathalyzers, Angry Birds and more.  Pop culture references and celebrities were not as prominent as one might expect in these stores, but could be found across their online counterparts.  Nonetheless, the creative choices are easy for the consumer to find: a Banana Man at Walmart or an edgy Banana Flasher at a local pop up store.

Banana Men

Halloween Costume Pricing – Highs and Lows

If you’ve got $1,800 lying around, you can find an exact replica of a Star Wars Storm Trooper costumer online this year. If that seems a little excessive to you, the brick-and-mortar retailers can help you out.  Only 14% of costumes in our retail audit were above the $50 mark. The lion’s share of costumes fell within a more reasonable $20 to $30 range, and 72% were $30 and under. This price-point reflects National Retail Federation research, which estimated that although overall spending on Halloween this year would be up, the average spend per costumes would remain fairly flat at around $27.

Price of Halloween Costumes

Price of Costumes

By the time the candy has all been collected and Halloween pop-ups have disappeared, more than 150 million Americans will have participated in Halloween activities.  Because of its natural tie to pop culture and the holiday’s draw to creativity, Halloween will always be a moving target for retailers.  With GroundCntrl’s predictive reports and on-the-ground data however, it’s getting easier to understand how the holiday will shape up for retailers across the country and react in real-time.


Author: groundcntrl

GroundCntrl is a mobile data and retail analytics platform.

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