Get Ready... Countdown to Halloween and the Holiday Season

Curtis Tingle, Chief Marketing Officer, Valassis
Published Tuesday, Oct 4, 2016

Get Ready... Countdown to Halloween and the Holiday Season

Here it is– the start of the all-important Q4 selling season. Although Q4 plans have most certainly been solidified for months (with many advertising tactics executing as we speak), let’s take a look at what we know about consumers’ shopping behavior and plans to see if any “last minute pivots” to your media schedule might be in order. 

The number of retailers and categories shopped continued to contract in 2015– consumers shopped an average of 9.4 retailers at the end of last year (vs. 11.1 in 2009) and 14.0 categories vs. 16.5 in 2009.1 Couple this with the growth in Amazon Prime membership (35 percent of all adults as of August 2016– a 30 percent increase vs. August 2015)2, and this provides the backdrop for the Q4 shopping season: persisting selectivity for where and how consumers spend, with an increased focus online.

2016 Halloween Potential

So what could this mean for Halloween 2016? Let’s take a look at recent data from Prosper Insights & Analytics™. Nearly 70 percent of consumers plan to participate in Halloween activities, with handing out candy being the most popular (71 percent).3 Likely not a surprise, the most popular Halloween activity for millennials will be dressing up in costume, with over 73 percent planning to do this (vs. 47 percent of all adults).Not only are discount stores cited as the place where this shopping will occur among all adults, they are also the most popular for Amazon Prime members as well3– highlighting that brick ‘n mortar locations are still very much a viable option, even for frequent online purchasers.

When asked when shopping will begin for these activities, 44 percent of adults noted the first two weeks of October, and nearly 22 percent cited the last two weeks of October3– again supporting that although consumers may be spreading out their spending throughout the year, last-minute shopping continues to be a habit we can’t break.

If consumers’ behavior follows their intentions, discount stores will again reap the benefit of Halloween shopping, and that shopping will occur throughout October. What’s not clear is the level of Halloween spending– although high spending is expected,4 with only 46 percent of consumers confident in a strong economy over the next six months3, they may still need to be enticed to spend their hard-earned dollars.

2016 Holiday Shopping Season Expectations

Early views of the holiday shopping season are hopeful yet moderate. Kantar Retail recently shared their retail sales forecast for Q4 2016– projecting a 3.8 percent increase over prior year. They went on to note that, “Income growth continues to be underwhelming, but lower food and fuel prices will cushion shoppers’ budgets.”eMarketer notes similar, albeit slightly lower, holiday retail sales growth potential.Both companies emphasized the continued impact of online shopping– citing double-digit increase expectations for 2016 holiday ecommerce sales.5,6 

Initial Prosper data capturing consumer response also seems to support the hopeful yet moderate view, and highlights that consumers remain cautious: while 36 percent of consumers plan to spend the same for gifts as last year, nearly 28 percent state that it is too early to tell.For the nearly 25 percent of consumers who plan to spend less on gifts for the December holiday, 36 percent of them plan to only buy gifts on sale and a third plan to do more comparison shopping.7 This supports that although dependence on sales may lessen overall, promotions will still be an important part of holiday shopping.

Will a pivot be needed to maximize Q4 revenue? Likely it depends on just how cautious consumers remain, how much they continue to constrict the number of retailers they visit, and where they instead spend those dollars online.     

1 Kantar Retail 2016, Kantar Retail ShopperScape® January 2007 – December 2015 (number of retailers & categories shopped in last four weeks); 
2 Prosper Insights & Analytics™, Monthly Consumer Survey, August 2016; 
3 Prosper Insights & Analytics™, Monthly Consumer Survey, September 2016; 
4 “Study: Halloween spending breaks glass ceiling”, Chain Store Age (citing NRF research), Sept. 2016; 
5 Kantar Retail, “Modestly Improved Holiday Growth Expected in 2016,” August 2016; 
6 eMarketer, “Online Holiday Shopping Forecast and Trends 2016”,Sept. 2016; 
7 Prosper Insights & Analytics™, Monthly Consumer Survey, July 2016.