From Peeps to wreaths: Easter shopping insights with NRF’s Katherine Cullen

Retail Gets Real episode 341: NRF’s vice president of industry and consumer insights on all the ways consumers are celebrating Easter this year
Sheryll Poe
NRF Contributor

For the first time in eight years, Easter will take place in late March instead of April, leaving many celebrants worriedly eyeing the weather forecast.

Nevertheless, consumers are eager to don their pastel finest and fill their baskets in a big way, according to NRF Vice President of Industry and Consumer Insights Katherine Cullen.

Easter spending 

Explore our Easter headquarters to see the latest insights into consumer shopping trends for the holiday.

“The overwhelming popularity of the holiday still remains,” Cullen says on this episode of Retail Gets Real. “[There are] lots of Easter traditions that people have, and people are still excited about it, whether it’s rainy and cold where they are, and blustery because it’s late March, or whether it’s great spring temps.”

Eight out of 10 consumers will celebrate Easter this year, according to NRF and Prosper Insights & Analytics’ Easter survey, and spending is expected to reach $22.4 billion.

Unsurprisingly, the top spending category for Easter is food, with many people saying they’ll get together with family or friends for a special Easter meal or brunch. Also unsurprising: The most popular Easter gift is candy. Spending on Peeps, chocolate bunnies and similar seasonal treats is expected to reach over $3 billion this year.

One new holiday trend on the rise is decorating for Easter, Cullen notes. “We’ve really seen, in the last several years, the percent of people who decorate for the holiday has really increased. It’s gone from about 41% before the pandemic to almost half of consumers today, and total spending on Easter decorations has increased by about 50% during that time period,” she says.

Easter egg hunts continue to be the top holiday activity, particularly post-pandemic. “Families with kids can’t miss out on that Easter egg hunt, so especially households with young children, about 56% of them say they’re planning an Easter egg hunt this year,” Cullen says.

Listen to the full episode to hear more on how consumers are celebrating Easter, some overlapping consumer trends mentioned at NRF’s Annual State of Retail & the Consumer, and why celebrating moments that matter continues to be important to consumers and retailers alike.

Episode transcript, edited for clarity

Bill Thorne: Welcome to Retail Gets Real, where we hear from retail’s most fascinating leaders about the industry that impacts everyone everywhere, every day. I’m Bill Thorne from the National Retail Federation, and on today’s episode, we’re hopping into NRF’S latest Easter data with my colleague and head of consumer research Katherine Cullen.

NRF has announced that spending on Easter is expected to reach a total of $22.4 billion this holiday, and today we’re diving into the top spending categories, popular activities and all the ways consumers are expected to spend this Easter.

Katherine Cullen, once again, welcome to Retail Gets Real.

Katherine Cullen:  Hello, Bill. Thanks for having me back on. It’s great to talk about Easter.

Thorne: How are you doing? Are you ready for Easter?

Cullen: A fun fact about Easter this year — beyond the spend, which we’ll talk about — is this is the first time in eight years that Easter has fallen in March. So, if anyone else is feeling a little unprepared, like I might be, it is earlier this year, and, you know, it is amazing. It’s a floating holiday, which means it can occur as early as late March, or as late as the third week of April, so a lot of big swings on when it can occur.

Thorne: Yeah, when we talk about swings, though, I mean, you know, you do all of this research … For the fact that it is earlier, I mean, does that impact the spend? Does that impact how people get ready or how they are prepared for the holiday?

Cullen: One thing that does help with our data is we do ask about it at the same time every year, so we do have some consistency there. But you know, I think it can have an impact. If Easter is the end of March, people might not be quite as ready to buy spring apparel as they might be if it were at the end of April. So, we might see some category-level impacts depending on what the weather’s like where people are, depending on when Easter occurs.

But the overwhelming popularity of the holidays still remains. You know, eight out of 10 consumers celebrate Easter, and as you noted, spending is expected to reach $22.4 billion, which is slightly down from last year’s record of $24 billion. It’s a really popular holiday, lots of Easter traditions that people have, and you know, people are still excited about it, whether it’s rainy and cold, where they are, and blustery because it’s late March or whether it’s great spring temps.

Thorne: It’s funny because I, Easter is probably one of those holidays in terms of what the temperature is or how the weather is — it could be so varied. I mean, I remember one Easter a number of years ago where we had a snowstorm. And then I remember a lot of Easters where, you know, you’re wearing your Easter bonnets, and you’re wearing your short-sleeve shirts, and you go out and you Easter egg hunt in shorts. And so, to me, I would think that … probably of any holiday, celebrating on that particular day can come with a whole range of weather implications.

You know, speaking of celebrating, how are people celebrating? I mean, what are they spending on?

Cullen: Well, unsurprisingly, the top spending category for Easter is food, and people are most likely to say that they’re getting together for a great Easter meal or brunch with family or friends. But of course, the most popular gift (just squeezing past food) is candy. We know candy is an important part of the holiday, whether people are hosting Easter egg hunts or, you know, putting out candy for family and friends, or simply indulging in it themselves. Spending on candy this year is expected to reach over $3 billion.

Thorne: It’s a lot of candy. Yeah. Woo. What are those bunnies called? The marshmallow bunnies?

Cullen: Oh, Peeps. Well, they can be a bunny or a chick.

Thorne: It’s a lot of Peeps.

Cullen: It’s a lot of Peeps there. A lot of chocolate bunnies. A lot of fun candies that kind of appear, that are sort of seasonal, which I think people really look forward to.

But of course, clothing, you know, we were joking about the weather. Clothing’s another big area of spending where people are expecting to spend about $3.5 billion. You know, even if the weather’s cooler, you might be wearing more of those pastels. You still want to [intelligible] and people are looking for an excuse to get dressed up, and you know, spend time with their loved ones.

Thorne: I remember when I was a child and we would get ready for church on Easter, and my mother would wear her finest, my father had his nicest suit. They’d get us kids all dressed up, ready for church as well, and for some reason they thought I should wear a bow tie and I didn’t like bow ties. So they were the clip-ons, so what I would do is: While they weren’t watching, I would run to the bathroom and flush it down the toilet. So, I helped retail at a time when I didn’t even realize I was helping retail by removing a product and then forcing my mother to buy another one. So it worked. You know, the plumbing was a little much, but they were small bowties — keep that in mind.

So, are there any new trends this year? I mean, what are the differences from last year?

Cullen: We already talked about the weather and how that might have something to do with how people are celebrating and what they’re purchasing, when they’re purchasing. But one of the other striking trends that really stood out to me — and this is one that’s been building over the last few years — is just how much more people are spending on decorations for Easter.

We’ve really seen in the last several years the percent of people who decorate for the holiday has really increased. It’s gone from about 41% before the pandemic to almost half of consumers today. And total spending on Easter decorations has increased by about 50% during that time period. So yes, that’s, that is a lot.

It’s an area where we know for many other holidays, consumers have really gotten into the spirit of the holidays through decorating, and it’s something that picked up during the pandemic and really doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.  I assume we’ll see a lot of fun DIY decorations, and people are making Easter wreaths, from what I’ve heard. It seems like wreaths have become a universal holiday decoration from what I’ve gathered.

Thorne: They are. They really are. My mom lives in an assisted living community, and when you walk down her hallway with these beautiful apartments and everything, it’s like every door has a wreath for that particular holiday and even that holiday. So, it’s like the first day of fall, so you’ve got pine cones and, you know, pine straw. For Easter, you’ve never seen so many decorative Easter eggs on a wreath. It is pretty amazing that you see that as a trend that really has picked up. I mean, I don’t think that was that way for, you know, any of my memory.

Cullen: Yeah, I don’t remember Easter wreaths being a thing or Halloween wreaths. Of course, you know, while we’re talking about a lot of trends that adults like, there are the really persistent traditions. We mentioned, of course, being together, a lot of people attend a religious service, but families with kids can’t miss out on that Easter egg hunt. So especially households with young children, about 56% of them say they’re planning an Easter egg hunt this year. So that is also something people are looking forward to.

Thorne: So, you know, the consumer in general, we’ve been doing a lot of research lately in terms of the resiliency of the consumer, how the consumer’s acting, reacting, uh, things that … headwinds, and yet at the same time, opportunities. Is that playing into how you’re seeing how people are preparing to buy for Easter.

Cullen: Well, what we’ve seen (and actually what we just discussed at the NRF’s Annual State of Retail & the Consumer last week) is that consumer spending is continuing at a healthy pace. We’ve seen for the first two months of this year, according to the NRF and CNBC Retail Monitor, powered by Affinity Solutions, that spending has been growing month over month. And our chief economist Jack Kleinhenz, of course, announced that the forecast for the year was that retail sales should grow somewhere between 2.5% and 3.5% over last year, which is very in line with where we saw things before the pandemic.

But what stands out to me is that these holidays … even as people are kind of normalizing other areas of their spend, maybe pulling back on some things, spending more on others with like discretionary spending … that celebrations continue to just be really popular. And we’ve seen that for Valentine’s Day, Super Bowl, St. Patrick’s Day, which you don’t have to be Irish to celebrate as we see.

So, I think that really this year, you know, remembering that these moments really matter to consumers — regardless of what’s going on in the broader world or the broader economy — is going to be really key. And we’re seeing a lot of retailers embrace that. Participating in these events through sales, through deals, through decorations that they put out, and it’s really becoming a key part of the consumer and retailer calendar.

Thorne: Not a surprise. So, you know, we just jumped into spring, hard to believe. Do you see any kind of trends moving into spring, summer, or any new data coming down the line that may give us a better sense of how the consumer feels or how the economy is headed?

Cullen: We just talked about celebrations continuing. We’re also seeing a lot (and we talked about this a bit at last week’s event as well) we’ve seen a lot of focus on health and personal care this year. People are spending on those items, really prioritizing self-care. We saw 11% growth for the category year over year for February which is really outstanding. So, I think that’s something to watch.

But, of course, we’ll be following all of this very closely, releasing our own monthly data on retail sales, which, of course, comes out before Census. And we’ll also be rolling out some new data specifically for NRF members that we’re very excited to preview that should give some additional insights into how consumers are shopping — some of these key sectors and how they’re really treating their wallet as spending settles down to more normal levels.

Thorne: Pretty awesome. As usual, And as I always say, it has been a distinct pleasure talking with you. Thank you for joining us on Retail Gets Real Today.

Cullen: Thank you so much, Bill.

Thorne: And thank you all for listening to another episode of Retail Gets Real. You can find more information about this episode at I’m Bill Thorne. This is Retail Gets Real. Thanks again for listening. Until next time.


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