New York CNN Business  — 

Halloween, a holiday that brings Americans together over a shared love for candy and costumes, will look very different during the pandemic.

As families reconsider Halloween traditions, companies that usually rely on Halloween for sales have been shuffling to adapt.

Here’s what Halloween will look like this year.


The Covid-19 pandemic is putting a damper on traditional trick-or-treating this year, a disappointment for kids and candy lovers alike. For candy companies like Hershey’s, Halloween is the biggest season for sales, and the pandemic threw it a curveball.

To boost sales and keep customers interested, this season’s Halloween preparations include putting Halloween-specific packaging on fewer treats, focusing on family-sized packs and extending the shopping season.

Halloween celebrations are unpredictable this year, but candy companies should still be optimistic, David Steinberg, co-founder and CEO of Zeta Global, a data-driven marketing technology company, told CNN Business. He added that consumers will continue to shop for candy for reasons that don’t include trick-or-treating: For example, candy sales increased in April, at the start of the pandemic, indicating that “people are viewing candy as comfort” while they are staying at home and social distancing.


Seasonal chain Spirit Halloween, which is known for its extensive costume collection, is prepared for a very non-traditional Halloween. The company is shifting its strategy during the pandemic, getting creative by offering new ways to celebrate and offering contactless Instacart delivery for Halloween costume shopping.

“We’re seeing strong customer foot traffic and are anticipating sales on par with last year,” Erin Springer, senior manager of public and media relations at Spirit Halloween, told CNN Business.

And costume sales are still going up, Steinberg said, even though it may be unsafe to partake in traditional trick-or-treating. “Kids are still excited for Halloween. Parents don’t want to disappoint them – especially after a tough year of having school from home,” Steinberg said. “Whether or not they are trick-or-treating, there is still a reason for them to dress up as their favorite character.”

Socially distant trick-or-treating

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued Halloween safety guidelines, labeling traditional trick-or-treating as a “high risk activity.” As an alternative, the CDC suggested “one-way trick-or-treating,” which involves dropping off individually wrapped goodie bags at neighbors and friends’ houses.

Retailers, such as CVS, Target and Meijer, took note, tapping into one-way trick-or-treating by offering “boo bags” – bags of candy that are meant to be left at your friends or neightbors’ front doors, eliminating human contact.

Additionally, a group of companies – including Party City, Hershey, Shoprite, Spirit Halloween and the National Retail Federation and Unicef – teamed up to create, a website that maps out how to trick-or-treat safely in every county in the United States.

Spirit Halloween recommended contactless trick-or-treating (even though they don’t sell candy), socially distant costume parades, graveyard scavenger hunts and virtual ghost storytelling.

To shop or not to shop

Online shopping has taken over during the pandemic, and curbside pickup – which minimizes human contact – has become one of the biggest shopping trends of 2020.

In preparation for Halloween, Lowe’s is launching drive-through, curbside trick-or-treating events leading up to the holiday, giving customers free candy and pumpkins. Lowe’s is likely using the event as an opportunity to keep shoppers coming to their stores. The initiative allows customers to partake in curbside pickup for items they ordered from the store while simultaneously participating in curbside trick-or-treating.

Party City has shifted its strategy, too. “Party City has essentially written the playbook on virtual at-home and drive-by celebrations,” company CEO Brad Weston told CNN Business, adding that the company developed virtual party kits, step-by-step guides and checklists to make it easier to plan Halloween celebrations during the pandemic.

The party supplier is focusing more on online sales and in-store pickup, curbside pickup and same-day delivery services. In 2019, the company had 256 Halloween pop-up shops around the country, and this year, the company will have only 25 Halloween pop-up shops in the United States.

Spirit Halloween, however, which has become a Halloween staple for many, opened 1,360 locations nationwide last year, and this year increased that number to 1,400.

Correction: An earlier version of this story gave the incorrect number of Halloween pop-up shops that were open in 2019. It has also been updated to clarify Party City's strategy for this season.