Barbara and Ken Smith sidled up to the four-sided rack of Halloween merchandise and carefully considered the display at Vancouver's Grand Central Fred Meyer on Wednesday.
It wasn't an easy decision. Would the couple's great-grandchildren prefer caramel-filled Rolo candies or would the three youngsters, ages 6, 3 and 18 months, like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups?
Eventually, the Smiths picked up one bag of each variety, plus some decorative treat bags, a half-dozen oranges, some stickers and a small bunch of bananas.
"We've already got some toys at home and some Rice Krispy treats and fruit gels," said Barbara Smith, of Vancouver. And the sale price for the candy, at about $2 per bag, was just right for her fixed-income budget. The Smiths had already spent $15 for a large bag of candy from Costco to cover tonight's trick-or-treat crowd.
U.S. shoppers are expected to spend more than $7.6 billion on Halloween this year, 3 percent more than last year, not only on costumes for their kids but on costumes for themselves and their pets, according to IBISWorld Inc. The spending includes bags of candy, greeting cards and home decorations such as fake spider webs, tombstones and cauldrons.
While overall spending will be up slightly, it will be a far cry from last year's nearly 18 percent increase over 2011, IBISWorld said, as consumers are expected to tighten holiday budgets in general. Spending on Halloween accounts for less than 1 percent of total U.S. retail spending, data from the market research firm shows.
"One of the biggest things that hindered growth this year is the government shutdown through more than half of October," said Nikoleta Panteva, a senior retail analyst with IBISWorld. "With huge macroeconomic things, consumer confidence usually drops pretty low. Spending gets cut on highly discretionary products like Halloween decorations and costumes."
Spending is expected to rise moderately in three of four categories that IBIS tracks — costumes, candy and decorations — while greeting card purchases will be down nearly 5 percent as consumers shift away from paper products. In the costume category, just over half of sales will be for adult costumes, slightly less than half for children's and nearly 2 percent for pets. Still, people will spend more than $52 million on pet costumes.
Growth in costume sales likely will come from those for children, as parents typically cut back on spending for themselves before cutting back on their kids, Panteva said. Adults are more likely to not dress up or buy used costumes, reuse old ones or make their own, she added.
Characters such as Justice League superheroes and Disney princesses have been big sellers for kids' costumes this year, said Matt Boylan, manager of a Target store in Canton, Md.
"The 'do-it-yourself' trend has also translated to costumes in recent years," Boylan said.
The mass discounter is among the retailers banking on that by selling accessories such as wigs, masks, faux beards, skirts, makeup, wands and capes.
Target also offers more than 20 pet costumes and accessories, such as mini jousters and jockeys that can perch on a dog's back.
Decorations are expected to see the strongest revenue growth of any of the categories tracked by IBISWorld.
"Animatronic" decorations have been growing in popularity, said Bonnie Fitzgerald, the Glen Burnie, Md., store manager of Spirit Halloween, a chain of temporary stores that pop up for several months each fall in vacant retail spaces.
Despite more budget-conscious consumers this year, spending on Halloween increased by nearly $2 billion in the past three years, according to IBISWorld. And that trend will likely continue, Panteva said.
"Retail spending in general is growing, so that's one part of it," she said. As for Halloween, "the marketing around the holiday has increased quite a bit."
In Vancouver, Fred Meyer sales associate Cassie Vincent spent Wednesday morning stocking the Grand Central store's candy section with bags of "fun-size" candy treats, a duty she has regularly performed for the better part of two months.
"We started putting (Halloween candy) out around the first of September," she said.
Vincent said most customers continue to stick with the all-time favorite candy treats, such as Kit Kats and Snickers. A relative newcomer, the Caramel Apple Pop by Tootsie Roll Industries, is also gaining ground as a popular staple.
Vincent said the store also is preparing to replace the Halloween treats with Christmas candy.
"We'll be setting Christmas up on (Nov.) third," she said.
Columbian staff writer Cami Joner contributed to this story.