Psychological, social, and economic constructs in Halloween candy

Large orange Halloween boxes of candy (Reese's Pieces, Kit Kat, Hershey's) at Mariano's in Wheaton, Illinois

Store shelves start gleaming with an array of Halloween candies, teasing the senses and igniting cravings. But what drives this seemingly premature, yet irresistible, appearance of treats meant for a night of spooky revelry? Behind this facade of early candy displays lies a labyrinth of human desires, ancient traditions, and savvy commerce.

Join us as we delve into the cryptic world of Halloween candy, where anticipation dances with commerce, and tradition meets temptation.

It has become a common sight: stores stocking up on Halloween candy months in advance, triggering a wave of jokes when candy displays emerge as early as August, particularly at places like Walgreens.

Seasonal demand

Behind this phenomenon lies the clever exploitation of Seasonal Demand — a fundamental economic concept. Stores take advantage of the excitement building around Halloween by offering candy early, knowing well that anticipation drives sales.

More candy = more sales. Pretty simple, right?

But the dynamics are more complex than meets the eye.

Planning & Immediate Gratification

All these stores are very smart selling bulk Halloween candy so early. People want to be prepared, so they buy a lot of candy. And then that candy sitting around the house gets eaten before Halloween, so they people go out and buy more candy.

There’s something interesting at play between the pyschological structures of Planning/Preparation and Immediate Gratification.

With Planning/Preparation—the feeling the need to plan ahead.

With Immediate Gratification—the candy provides immediate pleasure, and the presence of it in the house often leads to consumption, driven by psychological factors like stress, boredom, or habit.

Funny how someone that is very carefully planned ends up leading to someone going for the immediate moment.

This interplay between the psychological elements of preparation and immediate gratification is intriguing, showcasing the intricate nature of consumer behavior.

Scarcity Principle

Another psychological aspect at play is the Scarcity Principle. The perceived limited-time availability of Halloween candy (due to its annual occurrence) drives people to buy in larger quantities early on. This is ironic because the deals are not scarce. These deals are not just for one week. Many of the sales are up for at least the entire month. Some for two months. The deals are not scarce, even though in the moment they feel scarce.

Loss Aversion

This fear of missing out, rooted in the concept of Loss Aversion, pushes individuals to secure the best deals and treats before they vanish from the shelves.

Habit Formation

Once you buy the candy early, you know you have to buy it early every year. a phenomenon known as Habit Formation. Buying candy early becomes a habit, reinforced by the annual occurrence of Halloween. Once a habit is formed, people tend to repeat the behavior without much conscious thought.

Social Pressure

Of course, you want to look like a good neighbor, so you buy LOTS of candy. Don’t just give away one fun-size; let the kids take a handful of mini-bars. Your over-the-top active participation is encapsulated in the Social Pressure factor.

Celebration Culture

Even just participating in the event is part of the social factor Celebration Culture. Halloween is a widely celebrated holiday in America. The tradition of giving out candy is deeply ingrained, creating a constant demand.

In essence, the world of Halloween candy is a fascinating blend of economic strategy, psychological triggers like anticipation, immediate pleasure, and fear of missing out, and social dynamics of neighborly camaraderie and cultural celebration. These elements converge to create a complex tapestry that defines the way we buy, consume, and share Halloween treats each year.

Footnote

I was looking through my Google Photos to find photos of Halloween candy in the store. I didn’t have any. Which is so odd, because that’s such a regular thing in my life—going to the candy aisle.

But I did find this photo from work taken on August 15, 2012. It subtly captures how Halloween candy is put out so early in the year.

I was just at the candy aisle yesterday, and that’s what prompted me to write this blog post. I bought candy solely for the purpose of being the backup to whatever my wife buys (Hi, Sarah!). I wanted to ensure that we have GOOD candy to give out. One year, she bought Starburst. I had to hand out STARBURST to kids at the door. I was so embarrassed.

Then, of course, I start eating all the backup candy today.


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Tom Saaristo
Tom Saaristo
6 months ago

When I was a kid it was always the goal to find the house that handed out full-sized candy bars or 12 ounce cans of pop (I didn’t even mind purposefully going to the Dentist’s house to get a new toothbrush and mini tube of toothpaste) I didn’t aspire to become a dentist so I found myself inspired by the others and I give out full-sized candy bars, a variety, and let the kids choose. I did some research and found out it doesn’t really matter which candy as long it was full-sized… however, your idea to let them take handfuls has to be just as wonderful. I had 12 kids yesterday including 1 Spider-Man (my favorite Superhero). If I had hundreds I’d have gone the fist-full route… but it would still have to be chocolate

Tom Saaristo
Tom Saaristo
6 months ago

Oh and as to scarcity let me say that I haven’t been able to get my hands on SpongeBob SquarePants Gummy Krabby Patties for years now. It was the most popular candy I have ever given out with kids asking for multiples or returning hoping I didn’t remember them. Truth be told, I don’t care if you want multiples or come back or if you look “too old” or if a parent wants some. Everyone is welcome to trick or treat at my door

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