I’ve never done trick or treating at the mall, and I never intended to. But yesterday, a fluke of circumstance had Neil and Kelly among a horde of costumed kiddies popping into places like Target and Bath & Body Works for treats.
The circumstances that put us in this unexpected place was the Halloween party at Borders. Storytime with Andrew is a weekly must-do on Kelly’s schedule, and on Halloween, it had been moved back to 4 pm, so it could kick off the Borders party. The party was, essentially, a pumped-up storytime. Andrew (who went through 2 costumes himself in the process) read three stories, ran the kids through a costume parade, had them practice “spooky” sounds, and had a craft decorating paper pumpkins. Instead of getting a treat at the end, as they usually do, the children went trick-or-treating to four stations within the store.
When we returned to the children’s section, Andrew let us know it seemed that trick-or-treating in the mall was already on, in force. It wasn’t officially scheduled to start until 6:30, so I’d been sure we were going to miss it, but apparently, so many children had come into the mall so early that most of the stores were giving out treats already. Andrew had to go on treat-distribution duty, and the rest of the party’s planned activities were postponed.
Neil and Kelly were all for it, so out we went, for our first trick-or-treat at the mall. It was packed: there must have been thousands of children in costume, not to mention teenagers, some very well and imaginatively costumed (which excuses the weirdness of being a 17-year-old asking for lollipops) and some not (which just made them losers.)
I thought stores would take advantage of the event, either in spooking things up, or better yet, marketing their store with flyers, stickers, and coupons. But most of them didn’t. Mostly, the children received candy from a clerk stationed at the store’s door (to better keep the store free for actual shoppers), or at the sales counter inside the store. While handing out candy in front of the door was more efficient, being such an easy mark also meant the store’s candy stores would run out quickly. I thought it was wiser to make kids work a little for the candy, even if that just meant marching through the store. On a marketing perspective, it at least built mindshare: I walked into a lot of stores I’d never gone into and saw what kind of merchandise they were selling.
A lot of the clerks handing out candy were in costume, but only one store went all-out with the Halloween theme–and lessened the demand on their candy supply in the process. Zumiez, a sk8r clothing store, dimmed the lights, put on scary sounds, and made any comers walk past a clerk dressed as the killer from the Halloween movies. My children were amused; others ran away into the brighter, friendlier girls’ party dress store next door.
Only a very few stores took advantage of the outright marketing opportunity. The best done, I thought, were the cute branded stickers the childrens’ shoe store, Journeys, handed out with a piece of candy. C28 included a mini-pamphlet that let me know the apparent teen clothing store is Christian lifestyle retailer, which made me realize that maybe the “Jesus is my homeboy” shirts they were selling a few years ago may not have been ironic. The mall information booth handed out toothbrushes with their logo on it. Linens-n-Things and As Seen on TV handed me (not the kids) coupons to their stores, and the clerk at Payless Shoes pointed out to me they had a hot sale on. But that was it, as far as marketing goes, which made even a marketing neophyte like me feel like weeping with frustration at the lost opportunity.
It’s hard to imagine an easier directing marketing opportunity than this. Here you have hundreds, if not thousands, of mall people who are so mall-focused they’re bringing their children here to trick-or-treat, instead of to their own community. You know they’re local, and there is virtually a 100% chance they will be coming to your mall again. So, for heavens sake, brand your store into their minds. Next time they’re thinking of buying a card, need new glasses, or want to rent a tuxedo, they may look at your coupon, or brochure, or sticker, and realize what they want is right at the mall they go to all the time anyway, and come to your store.
But it wasn’t a completely lost opportunity for the retailers. The clerk handing out candy in front of the Christopher and Banks clothing store had such a cute dress on I had to peek at the clothes on display behind her, and planned to visit the store (which I’ve never been in) for some shopping later. I found out my favorite cheap fashion store was selling everything at 50% off in anticipation of closing down and reopening under a new name. I have to go back there, too.
A fair number of retailers weren’t participating, and most of them posted “no candy” signs on their doors to keep the horde out. Several others had run out of candy (or other treats) already by the time were were trick or treating. Since this was an hour before the trick or treating was supposed to have officially begun, I could only wonder what would be left for those who paid attention to the actual posted schedule. But even though I only let Kelly and Neil go to the stores they were intrigued by (rather than to each and every store we could have stepped into), they still had a hefty stash by the time we were finished, about an hour later. And it was neat to see all the costumes, especially the more imaginative ones. We saw one little boy costumed as a shower, and one clerk (I think) theatrically dressed like a blond leather-wearing manga hero.
On the downside, the experience had no soul. Sure, the kids got a lot of candy from a lot of places quickly, but there was no sense of community. The delight of trick-or-treating in our own neighborhood is seeing which costumes kids you know have chosen to wear this year, and stopping in on your own neighbors. Many of the clerks just looked stressed out, and I didn’t see another familiar face, except for the few Borders storytime regulars. But there were thousands of children at the mall, and that evening we got maybe 20 trick or treaters at our door, a quarter of which were uncostumed teenagers. I much prefer neighborhood trick-or-treating, and we’ll stick with it, but the mall experience is definitely more popular.