September 29, 2020

Steve Horwitz

Steve Horwitz, distinguished professor of free enterprise

From a pandemic changing social habits to a highly controversial presidential race, this Halloween retail season “may be the most unpredictable one in recent memory,” said Steve Horwitz, an economics professor at Ball State University.

“There are a variety of factors creating a high degree of uncertainty about what consumers are likely to do,” Horwitz said. “To the extent that the economy remains slow and that unemployment remains fairly high, that would suggest a sluggish holiday retail season.”

He points out that the recently-released annual survey by the National Retail Federation found about 148 million U.S. adults plan to participate in Halloween-related activities this year—down from the 172 million in the 2019 survey. And those planning to celebrate by trick-or-treating this year dropped to 23% from 29% in 2019.

Another factor in celebrating Halloween this year are new guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease and Control (CDC) that recommend against trick-or-treating and holiday-themed parties and hayrides.

“So much depends upon the state of public health and the political decisions that surround it that it’s hard to know which of the forces in play might dominate,” Horwitz said. “About the only thing that we can say with certainty is that whatever Americans do spend on this holiday season, it’s more likely to be done online than in years past. This is because how much more comfortable people are with doing so and how many more firms are offering multiple options for delivery and pick-up. This will certainly be the case if people are still worried about traveling and gathering in person, and decide instead to ship holiday gifts to family and friends.”