Tricks, treats, retail feats: Wharton’s Halloween insights

For expert retailers and marketers, Halloween is the perfect opportunity to explore the marketing learnings of psychological consumer behavior.

Halloween re-enters everyone’s life year-after-year and draws lasting fascination from consumers. According to the National Retail Federation, Halloween-related spending is expected to reach over $10 billion in 2023 alone.

Front entrance to a Halloween HQ superstore.
Image: iStock/Derick Hudson

For expert retailers and marketers, Halloween is the perfect opportunity to “read the tea leaves in the marketplace, and go in at a level that digs just beneath the surface,” says Steven Silverstein, Wharton alumnus and CEO of both Spirit Halloween and Spencer’s Gifts.

Peter Fader, Wharton’s Frances and Pei-Yuan Chia Professor of Marketing, joins Silverstein with undergraduate student Anoushka Ambavanekar to discuss how retailers, product designers, and marketers alike work year-long to solve one of the most fun and enduring puzzles of the annual market.

Voting with the literal proof of their dollars, Fader compares Halloween to the results of a major election in the marketing and retail fields, wherein people demonstrate what their values are, what’s top-of-mind person-to-person, and just how much those integral facts change year-over-year.

“It’s fascinating to explore all of the marketing learnings of psychological consumer behavior that we see reflected on what people choose to spend their money every Halloween, and how those choices change and evolve over time,” Fader says.

“No matter how much the media pushes people in one direction, saying ‘This is the one hot theme for Halloween this year,’ consumers vote with their feet and their wallets,” he adds. “People think that seasonal stores like Spirit just appear with the wave of a magic wand, and somehow have exactly what everyone wants to buy. But the things Steven and his team do are executed on countless different dimensions; from the real estate side to placing their bets months in advance, hoping they will successfully predict or react to the consumer tastes of the moment.”

This story is by Grace Meredith. Read more at Wharton Stories.