The NRF survey predicted a strong Halloween season. Only a third of more than 9,300 respondents said the economy would impact their plans. More than 40 percent of those cutting back says they would buy less candy or avoid Halloween haunted houses or hayrides.
Consumer spending is expected to reach $6.86 billion for costumes, decorations, candy and greeting cards when results are extrapolated out to the total U.S adult population.
But retailers were skeptical. Sales have not recovered since 2008's decline, says Hickey.
"People are calling, and there's lots of interest, but dollars aren't walking through the door," he says.
This year had a slow start, says Siegel-George. "For the past four years, it's been later and later," she says. "Unfortunately, everyone starts thinking about (Halloween) two or three days beforehand."
Customers focus on prices. "People are conscientious about what's on sale," Siegel-George says, and sometimes buy a costume but few accessories.
Others exhibit what she describes as the "Diet Coke" effect.
Just as dieters might reconcile a greasy burger and fries by pairing them with a low-calorie drink, some customers choose a costume discounted by 30 percent "but then they'll get five accessories," Siegel-George says.