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COVID-19 won’t scare off Halloween spending

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Rebecca Valli

While conspicuous consumption is ever present in many aspects of people’s lives in the U.S. there are fewer holidays that exemplify consumers’ willingness to “show off” their wealth as Halloween.

Ori Heffetz

professor of applied economics at Cornell University’s SC Johnson College of Business

This year COVID-19 restrictions may hamper some of that spending, but Ori Heffetz, associate professor of strategy and business economics at the SC Johnson College of Business at Cornell University, says that “socially visible” consumption will continue to be at play in celebrating Halloween in 2020. 


Heffetz says:

“COVID-19 has upended our lives, radically changing everything from how we work and play to our household finances and expenditures. 

“Did conspicuous consumption change? I don’t think so, I just think that we all are finding new channels through which we try to demonstrate to others what and who we are, what we believe in, what we’re worth, and what’s important to us. We try to spend less, but we still tell our story. We are more conscious of the price — ‘Do I really need this expenditure now?’ — but we are social animals even when socially distanced.

“So, consumption patterns have changed, but the social parade never stops. For example, we can now demonstrate our values, our health, and even our politics by wearing a mask, or by declining to wear one. By going out to a restaurant or by investing in, and bragging about, our home-cooking skills and equipment. By attending social events or by minimizing social interaction. 

“What about Halloween? We are going out in public less and socializing less, and also cutting back on discretionary spending. Halloween expenditures are no exception and may therefore go down dramatically this year. On the other hand, in times of stress and uncertainty, we fall back on our family traditions, we return to the familiar and loved. It gives us solace, stability, and strength. So, in particular when kids are involved, I think they’ll still get the Halloween costumes, trick-or-treating, and decorations they deserve—perhaps especially in these times.

“We have been collecting survey data on visibility periodically over the past 15 years to track how quickly people notice others' larger-than-average expenditures on different items. These data show that in spite of the dramatic shift of our lives to be more inward- and homeward-focused, some things are just as socially visible as ever, and maybe even more so. Our homes and clothes, for example, are quite visible to others nowadays. On the other hand, the social visibility of spending more than average on a cellphone, a car and its maintenance, or on-air travel has not increased, and may have even decreased.”

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