Halloween Hits and Misses: Amazon, Party City, Michaels and more

October 24, 2018

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! If you’re psychotic about Halloween, like me, Thanksgiving and Christmas bring a lot of stress, but Halloween is pure fun. This year I went BIG. The National Retail Federation recently forecasted $8 Billion in Halloween spending, and I spent $7.5 Billion of that.

We have a halloween party coming up, and I’ve spared no expense. The biggest spend categories tend to be costumes, decorations, and candy. “According to the survey, consumers plan to spend $3.2 billion on costumes (purchased by 68 percent of Halloween shoppers), $2.7 billion on decorations (74 percent), $2.6 billion on candy (95 percent) and $400 million on greeting cards (35 percent).” I’ve added a fourth category: Crafts.

I found my shopping process interesting because where I assumed I would find something, I didn’t.

Here’s a run down of hits and misses with some lessons for retailers for seasonal availability. (And don't forget, you can download our brand new holiday season report which covers tips and tricks to get you through the peak period).

Decorations - Nothing fills me with more joy than my spooky spidery porch, all goods purchased at Michaels. Michaels had the most fabulous selection of affordable Halloween decorations, and it was all 50% off even in early October. IMG_4735I purchased candles, many items for my graveyard, a fake crow because that’s an obvious necessity, a motion activated spider which has truly delighted my children… and the list goes on. I have never enjoyed spending money more - the variety and value were exceptional. Contrast that experience with Party City, where one would think to go for all halloween party, decoration, and costume needs, and I found everything to be tremendously overpriced. If I found something I wanted, I got it on Amazon for on average 10-20% less. Amazon also had a delightful selection of mantle decor for very cheap, versus Michaels Martha Stewart line (which I bought anyways because I’m completely out of control).

An unexpected hit for Halloween decor was at an online store I’d never heard of - Grandin Road. Through a random search experience I was captivated by this “Holding Hands Witches” decoration. I bought two sets, and it was totally worth it. It’s been the hit of the neighborhood. I want more… but I can’t get more because they sold out. Thank you - Grandin Road, but you should have planned for higher demand because you’re missing 100% of my repeat sale purchases, and the ability to acquire new customers with this great decoration.

Hit: Michaels

Miss: Party City

Lesson for retailers: What drove me to Party City was knowing they have pretty much everything I need for decorations and costumes. The disappointment was in realizing that I would pay a hefty price for the convenience of buying everything I need in one store. The irony is that hypothetically a one-stop-shop (Amazon) is such a draw - but it turns out it only is when the prices are fair. You have to have both. 

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Crafts - I have 40+ kids coming, and I really wanted to do a Mason Jar mummy craft. Where should I go for crafting Supplies? Michaels! Although their Mason Jar variety was better (plastic options so kids wouldn’t break them), they were very expensive. I just couldn’t justify the expense. So I switched to Halloween Luminaries… and still Amazon had the better selection of luminary bags, halloween stickers, and votive candles - all at better prices.

Hit: Amazon

Miss: Michaels

Lesson for retailers: When you’re dominant in a category, you need to use your online channel to continually reinforce that dominance - not just in assortment and availability, but use it to drive price competitiveness. It gives you the opportunity to offer more, at better prices that you can afford to source in-store. Don’t neglect the omni-channel opportunity of a deeper and wider assortment online, or you will lose your category dominance to Amazon.

Costumes - We’re a family of five + dog. That’s a lot of costumes. While at Party City I reviewed the selection, and couldn’t handle the price. IMG_4724This example sums it up: Party City Spiderman: $29.99, Amazon Spiderman: $20.37. Who loves his costume? Amazon Spiderman. All of my costumes were purchased for less on Amazon. 

Hit: Amazon

Miss: Party City

Lesson for retailers: Price comparison shopping isn’t going away. If you can’t afford to be price competitive with Amazon, you have to find a new business model that gets you there. While Party City carries a higher quality costume, paying a premium for the quality of something you’ll wear once doesn’t really fit with today's consumer. Business Insider had a great article earlier this year on retailers who are defying the retail meltdown by opening hundreds of new stores. The common thread? They’re discount retailers. One poignant quote points to the problem for Party City: “US shoppers started gravitating toward discount stores during the recession, and most never returned to shopping full-price.”


Candy - I just watched the documentary That Sugar Film. So I will immediately rid my home of processed sugars AFTER Halloween. Until then - It’s Hershey’s and candy corn and caramel corn and caramel apples, and of course cider donuts - rolled in sugar. Sue me. The thing with Halloween Candy is it’s more of an impulse buy. You’re in the grocery store every week - you know you need it, and the convenience wins. I’ll say it: I did not price compare Halloween candy. Therefore, I bought no candy on Amazon. Wegmans, Stop and Shop, and Party City on the other hand - all big winners.

Hit: Grocers + Party City

Miss: Amazon

Lesson for grocers: Of the many impulse shopping categories in the store - seasonal treats might be #1. Your buyers are probably not looking at Amazon. Go get that margin!

Happy Halloween from our family to yours!

Don't forget to download our latest holiday report: Santa's Out of Stock to find out how you can increase assortment and manage stock availability over the holiday season.

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Jess Iandiorio

Written by Jess Iandiorio

Jess runs marketing globally for Mirakl. Prior to Mirakl, Jess ran product marketing at Acquia while they grew from $30M to $100M+. Jess was also previously in product marketing at Endeca, a commerce site search vendor sold to Oracle in 2011 for $1B+.

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