The season for black cats, witches and trick-or-treaters is nearing, and this year a record 170 million people in the United States will celebrate Halloween, spending up to $8 billion, according to a retail industry survey.
Seven in 10 Americans will take part in festivities, and the average person will spend $79.82 on decorations, costumes and candy -- up from $72.31 last year, according to the National Retail Federation's 2012 Halloween consumer spending survey, conducted by Worthington-based research group BIGinsight.
"Halloween is our big season," said Greg Manger, vice president of operations for Costume Specialties, 3012 E. Broad St. "It's kind of like Christmas to most retailers. We hire more people to work. We're going to be at our peak in inventory."
How sales will go is "a little bit too early to tell, but so far it's pretty much on line with previous years," said Pam Hickman, manager at the Costume Holiday House, 851 Bethel Rd. "The most popular thing so far is probably The Avengers, because the movie was popular."
Superheroes and supervillains are really popular, said Eric Kramer, assistant manager at Costume Vault, 6670 Sawmill Rd. "The Joker, the villain in Spider-Man, Loki, Bane --he's really popular this year --and all of the Avengers."
Costume stores typically do most of their buying at the beginning of the year, Manger said, so it's difficult to anticipate what might be in demand by the time Halloween season rolls around.
"It's kind of a crapshoot. You do your best to forecast and know what's going to happen. There's a lot of risk there."
"You can't really tell until after it's over," Hickman said. "Last year, we thought it was going to be Angry Birds, but it turned out to be exotic animals and Jack Hanna because of the animal escape that was in the news.
"The same thing happens if someone dies. The year Michael Jackson died, everybody wanted to be him. It's so hard to plan that kind of thing because people go off what they see in the news. So it's not always what you think it will be."
However, judging from early sales, "superhero stuff is going to be popular," Manger said. "Brightly colored stuff --fright wigs and costumes --and the burlesque, sexy-type costumes, the French maid stuff."
At Costume Vault, "the most popular costumes so far are monsters, the fuzzy monsters," Kramer said. "It's definitely been pretty brisk so far this season."
Halloween is the eighth-biggest selling season in the United States. It is far behind the winter holidays, which rank as the No. 1 retail season.
Last year, retailers raked in $471.5 billion during the winter holidays, according to the NRF. Halloween sales were about $6.9 billion, lower than holiday spending associated with Mother's Day ($18.6 billion) and the Super Bowl ($11 billion).
Among people celebrating Halloween this year, more than half will decorate their home or yard, up from 49.5 percent last year, and 45 percent plan to dress in costume, also up from last year, according to the survey.
Like winter-holiday shoppers, "people will procrastinate, and the largest volume (sales) will be the last two weeks," Manger said.
The study, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 1 percentage point, polled 9,393 consumers from Sept. 5 to 11.
More than one-third plan on throwing or attending a Halloween party, and 33.2 percent will take children trick-or-treating.
Despite the expected increase in Halloween spending this year, one-fourth of U.S. consumers said the state of the economy will affect their Halloween plans.
To compensate, many said they will spend less overall, while others plan to make a costume instead of buying one, or will buy less candy.
Information from Reuters was included in this story.
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