Are retailers trick or treating us this Halloween?

According to Bing, 32% of Americans start searching for costumes before October even starts and there are now more Halloween searches happening on mobile devices than desktop; last year, Halloween searches on mobile grew 1,052% on Bing alone. Halloween may be a bigger social and retail event in the US but some UK retailers are already gearing up for the seasonal promotion and sales push.

This blog takes a peek at retailers who are actively marketing Halloween online and stealing a march on their competitors, as well as those whose promotion efforts are a little underwhelming.

I’m also writing it on a Friday at 13.00, so make of that what you will…

Embracing the witching hour with a scary UX

Online grocery retailers have made a play to update the site to showcase party ranges. Having looked at Waitrose, Sainsbury, Tesco and Morrison, I think Tesco Direct has the strongest visual design. The landing page is clearly themed and product category pages have been updated to prioritise Halloween themed items e.g. in Party Tableware ‘Day of the Dead Dinner Plates’ is at the top.


There’s a nice touch with the ‘Halloween themed experiences’ range that is a product list page with faceted navigation and product badges to highlight new items.


However, and this is a continued bugbear of mine on grocery sites, some of the ranges sit on separate domains to the groceries, so you can’t put everything in one basket. I added some decorations and then tried to buy a costume for my daughter, only to find myself on a separate site with a non-linked basket and no sign of my decorations. The only way to get back was to use the browser back buttons, a really poor UX.

Devilishly delightful content

I really like Topshop’s editorial approach, tapping into the make-up theme of Halloween and providing video and editorial content on how to style your look. Each bit of editorial links to a custom landing page of products, including clothing and accessories. I love the videos, especially how the sound tracks align with the looks being promoted. It’s a well-planned and simply executed bit of content marketing and the content is highly shareable.


Social spooks

Unsurprisingly, costume retailers are highly active on social. Having spent Halloween in the US, I know how much effort goes into buying outfits and it’s a retail bonanza. In the UK there is a lesser peak in costume buying but retailers like Mega Fancy Dress are using social channels effectively to push strong visual content, having also update their profile images:


It’s interesting to see the volume of social shares these posts attract. With only 2,850 followers, Megafancydress is consistently getting more than 100 RTs, the highest being 214.

Playing it cool

And then there’s the contrast, brands that are giving only a cursory glance to the event with almost unnoticeable design tweaks. John Lewis is a good example:


If you compare its Twitter stream with Megafancydress, JL is unsurprisingly not leading on Halloween due to its diverse catalogue. The stream is also highly visual but has a very low level of RTs – less than 10 on most tweets from a follower base of 245k. I checked back one week and found no Halloween post, even though they’ve got a gift category on the website. It seems strange given the date not to do some cheeky social fun posts, I’m sure they’d get more traction than the standard visual posts.

I’m intrigued by the big department store merchandising decisions. Many of the products in the basic Halloween category page are logical, including costumes and decorations, but some seem rather tenuous associations. Below is a screenshot from M&S – not entirely convinced a star print top or Hello Kitty pyjamas have a strong affinity with Halloween.


Who has gone all out Halloween with the full ghostly experience?

Costume retailers arguably have the greatest license to vamp up their site design for Halloween given the affinity their product range has with the season. Of the handful I’ve reviewed, my personal favourite is Jokers’ Masquerade.

There is a site wide header refresh to provide consistent Halloween design throughout the site, which is also carried through to the enclosed checkout. The homepage also has a strong themed design with multiple messages to target difference audiences. It would be nice to see subtle touches like making the mouse cursor into a spider’s web or something similar.

Most retailers lead on promotional messaging that focuses on selling. However, taps into a poignant topic and uses content to address the concerns some parents have over keeping their children safe. There is a detailed content page explaining costume safety and the legal context, with videos showing some of the products being (unofficially) safety tested. The headline ‘Stay safe this Halloween’ sets the site apart from competitors.


If you contrast this with Halloween Express, you can see the difference in effort to align the site visual identity with the merchandising promotions.


Checkout fright night

I’ll come back to as a retailer I think gives a good overall browsing experience but whose checkout has several ghostly flaws. The checkout ticks some boxes for good practice:

  • Enclosed with unnecessary navigation stripped away
  • Guest and social log-in enabled
  • Postcode lookup and validation for quick address population (though predictive search isn’t provided)
  • Alternative payment method supported – PayPal
  • Persistent order summary.

However, there are omissions that could spook some users and send them running for the lights:

  • No in-line validation of form fields
  • Phone number field accepts invalid characters – there appears to be no validation
  • Changing options (g. ticking opt-in boxes) overlays an irritating ‘please wait’ message that is slow to disappear
  • No delivery cost is shown until your enter your address – could easily be fixed to default to ‘From £3.99’ and then update when address selected
  • Expiry date can be set for a past date
  • On mobile the keypad doesn’t default to most relevant option g. for email address, email keypad isn’t enabled, user has to toggle .

It’s shame that the checkout doesn’t match the UX design for quality.

Subtle scare factor

Brands like ThinkGeek have given parts of the site a subtle Halloween lift without changing the core site design. There is a strong promotion offering a free Halloween t-shirt (worth $19.99) with orders of $40 or more on Halloween merchandise. There are some nice little touches around the site too to provide a positive UX:

  • Top of page delivery reminder message to promote order cut-off date for guaranteed Halloween delivery
  • Halloween landing page with custom design and truly creepy video showcasing products
  • Site wide header has a dark and eerie background with illuminated pumpkins.

I love the new footer with stylish deserted house design. It’s giving me the Blair Witch heebeegeebees (never thought I’d ever get that word into an ecommerce blog, thanks PCAPredict!).


Comments and questions

Who do you think is doing Halloween well online? What tips can you give to retailers for taking advantage of the consumer interest without killing the core UX of the site and overplaying the event’s importance?

I’d welcome your comments, questions and suggestions. Please share this blog with anyone who you think would find it interesting/have something to add.