Halloween supply chain issues make costume hunting the scariest part


There is the classic costume – ghost, witch, fairy.

There’s the tribute to pop culture – Marilyn Monroe, Tony Soprano, The Matrix.

Then there are the festive ways of embodying the zeitgeist, a socially acceptable method of donning an outfit that says “look at me, I’m smart” – a meme costume, some obscure reference, or some Netflix phenomenon. no one saw it coming (watching you, “Tiger King” and “Squid Game”).

It was already becoming difficult to predict and source a costume of the moment, as viral trends often exceed manufacturing deadlines. This year, as supply chain issues keep the shelves empty, it’s harder than ever to deliver candy or a spell.

Spirit Halloween stores are trying: The seasonal national retailer has 1,400 stores this year in abandoned malls and even in the former Barney’s flagship store in Manhattan. But it is difficult to find “Eternals” or “WandaVision” clothes there. Even Amazon is risky. In mid-October, consumers had to pay $ 60 shipping for a $ 26 Squid Game-inspired green tracksuit to make it in time for Halloween.

“I think the hard part of it all is there was nothing really on the shelves,” said John Shea of ​​Hazlet, NJ, a Halloween costume enthusiast who wishes the holidays were over. “24/7, 365 days a year.” Last weekend, Mr. Shea won an annual costume contest in Salem, Massachusetts, the historically spooky coastal town that turned an unfortunate part of history (of Puritans drowning and burning women at the stake to “Witchcraft”) into a tourist destination (for people dressed as witches).

Although he opted for what he described as a more timeless costume – a 1930s starlet, depicted in the hands of the devil – Mr Shea said it was difficult to find even small pieces like capes. or masks this year. He made his own, with the help of YouTube tutorials.

Supply chain issues have made everything from Cheerios to toilet paper more expensive since the start of the pandemic. At the same time, Halloween fans have a pent-up demand for celebrations after last year’s vacation was limited by Covid-19 restrictions. Consumers are expected to spend $ 10.1 billion on Halloween this year, up from $ 8.05 billion in 2020, according to the National Retail Federation. And an estimated 65% of Americans plan to celebrate, up from 58% last year.

Julie niederhoff, professor in the supply chain management department at Syracuse University, explained why this year is a perfect storm for a shortage of costumes. There are all the reasons the port-to-store supply chain is running at less capacity – including shortages of truck drivers, warehouse workers and other workers, Covid lockdowns, natural disasters and the shortage of containers.

Normally, Professor Niederhoff said, Halloween costumes ship in late summer and retailers may not necessarily be able to capture the latest trends in a cost-effective manner. Sourcing and producing a costume typically takes at least three months if a company is willing to pay for a certain gear. Under current conditions, this should have been done six to nine months in advance.

The supply chain is not well equipped to handle trends, especially when a show or image suddenly becomes popular overnight – “Ted Lasso”, for example, the Britney Spears resurgence or the black bodysuit. Kim Kardashian’s Balenciaga Met Gala.

“Trends are changing very quickly,” said Professor Niederhoff. “They come out of nowhere, so we have very little notice and very little stamina, which makes it very difficult to produce on a large scale under a tight deadline like Halloween or Christmas.”

In his own home, his professional expertise is clear in their vacation plans: “I’m still a skeleton. The kids play the role of Grim Reaper, Young Link from ‘Zelda’, Luz from ‘Owl House’, and still unknown, ”she said. “But we make homemade costumes to be immune to this specific supply chain problem.”

Previously, it was easier for retailers to predict which costumes would be popular, as major studios would release long overdue films, and costume design and other merchandise would be part of those launches. Now, what’s popular is more of a surprise.

Even for Andrea Bell, director of insight for trend forecasting company WGSN, it sometimes seems like trends are coming out of nowhere.

“The challenge with Halloween costume predictions is twofold: There is a viral-fueled secretive aspect,” she said in an email. “Beyond the element of surprise, there are so many other cultural contributions that influence costume choices.”

In the 1980s, popular costume choices were largely driven by movies, music videos, and TV shows. “These days, we have memes, influencers, and cultural moments that provide endless food for costumes,” she said.

Although the pandemic has exacerbated supply chain disruptions, they do occur to some extent regularly due to inclement weather or accidents. When this happens, manufacturers can contact retailers, explain that they are running out of certain products, and encourage retailers not to advertise or promote them online.

“It kind of works behind the scenes and customers don’t really notice it,” Prof Niederhoff said. “With something like Halloween candy, retailers can’t say, ‘Hey, let’s not advertise Halloween candy this year. “”

Mr Shea said he visited a Spirit Halloween store and was able to find some of the classics – cowboys, doctors, “sexy nurses”. He saw pop culture costumes, but they were more persistent than topical, like outfits inspired by the ’90s movies “Hocus Pocus” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas”.

He eventually adopted a half-full Halloween attitude.

“I think it was good in a way and it was bad in a way that the channels didn’t have a lot of stuff,” he said. “It got people to think a little more creatively about what they were up to.”


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