Who knows what hides in the bones of retail consumers? Skelly knows it.
By: Jenn Mc Millen
The 12-foot, $299 skeleton, introduced by Home Depot in 2020, has evolved from a novelty lawn ornament to a mascot for (we guess) tens of thousands of American homes. On July 15, two years after the introduction of “Skelly’s,” Home Depot once again sold the item in its annual “Halloween in July” promotion, USA Today reported.
Now entering its third Halloween, the décor dubbed Skelly is revealing what it takes for a once-risky product to persevere and come even closer. Home Depot has been adding giant spin-offs: a towering $379 “Pumpkin from Hell” skeleton, a $299 best-seller “Hovering Witch” and, introduced this year, a $399 “Immortal Werewolf,” over 9 feet tall.
What is hidden in the bones of Skelly buyers? In an earnings conference call in August, transcribed by the Motley Fool, Home Depot CFO Ted Decker attributed strong July sales to the resilience of his customers: Fast, (but) people are spending $300 on an item clearly discretionary.
As of October 12, Skelly remained out of stock on the Home Depot website.
Dark Shadows: Skelly Confronts Inflation
What’s instructive about Skelly’s success is that since he graced homes’ lawns in 2020, he (let’s just call him him) has held on despite the troubled economy. Consider: In 2020, Home Depot reported its most successful Halloween to date. The prospect of breaking that record looks solid, despite record inflation, assuming Home Depot can keep up with demand.
This is why.
Skelly’s brisk sales in July contributed to the highest quarterly revenue in Home Depot history: $43.8 billion. Due to sellouts of Skelly, there is now a black market for 12ft skeletons, including knockoffs on AmazonAMZN +3.5% offered for over $500. Additionally, Lowe’s and Costco have introduced their own higher-priced skeleton alternatives: an animatronic mummy at Lowe’s ($348) and an animated 10-foot reaper at Costco ($320).
What is in those polyethylene bones that gives Skelly such strength? Perhaps it is that it defies what fate has in store for us. His 60-pound frame has embodied both fear and joy during a period when the former is in high supply and the latter in high demand. Many who erect Skelly are giving a middle finger smile to the challenges of the times.
As sociologist Jenni Tabler, interviewed by CNN, put it in a recent tweet, Skelly is “Home Depot’s singular positive brand on American society.”
Skelly Tales: 4 revelations about consumer behavior
Indeed, Skelly’s steady march to American properties speaks volumes not only about consumer momentum, but also about the savvy among Home Depot’s marketers.
If Skelly could talk, this could be what she would say to retailers and brands:
- Use a bit of backbone to justify that high price. Skelly is an expensive Halloween decoration, but many who invest in it are looking for ways to get more out of their $299, and Home Depot is watching. Some owners wear it year-round, wearing it for every holiday, even gay pride month and Christmas (think Skelly Claus). A couple in New Jersey decorated their Skelly as a wedding altarCNN reports. To fuel this creativity, Home Depot devotes an entire web page to the basics of Skelly, including maintenance and “12 foot skeleton ideas year round”, like a top hat for New Years and sunglasses and boxer shorts for summer.
- When not sure, people go big. In times of uncertainty, unexpected and larger products are more likely to attract attention. In Skelly’s case, the confidence he embodies was noticeable (a $299 skeleton is a risk, but also a challenge). Lance Allen, Senior Christmas Decor Merchant at Home Depot, he told MarketWatch that when his team designed Skelly, they originally aimed to make him 10 feet tall. But knowing that consumers tend to improve their decoration, and considering the isolation of the pandemic, they decided to “shoot for the stars” and raised it to 12 feet. Those two feet lifted Skelly into a two-story figure and could have made all the difference.
- When it comes to sales, social media has a backbone. Halloween decorating is a huge social media event, and Skelly jumped right into the spotlight in July 2020. In early October, the “Home Depot Skeleton” feed on TikTok attracted nearly 35 million views. The resulting competition to post images that are more elaborate leads many to invest in expensive decorations like Skelly and start earlier – consumers report spending up to 40% more with brands that reach them through social networks, according to OptinMonster. It’s not surprising, then, that a host of brands, including Budweiser and Sour Patch Kids candy, joined with Skelly on social mediaas revealed by AdAge.
- Consumers know that everything is going well. Nine out of 10 consumers expect inflated prices to stay high, according to a September survey conducted by WSL Strategic Retail in New York. However, less than half of all consumers (43%) have cut their spending to cover the basics. This suggests that most have adjusted to higher bills and are recalibrating discretionary purchases within this context. Home Depot seems to understand this decision-making context, as well as the price gouging issue, by never raising the Skelly’s $299 price since its launch.
That Skelly clings to the imagination of consumers communicates an enduring need for control in an environment of increased unpredictability. He demonstrates not only how strong the bones of good product planning can be, but also the calcification of the consumer’s will to overcome challenges.
Skelly ultimately reveals what lurks in the hearts of consumers
I have been building and sharing experience in the retail industry for over 20 years. My wheelhouse includes customer relationship management, shopper experience, retail marketing, loyalty programs, and data analytics. My perspective is unique because I have extensive experience in both retail/client and agency/consulting.
In 2015 I founded Incendio, a firm that creates and corrects marketing, consumer engagement, loyalty and CRM programs. Incendio is a trusted partner to some of the biggest brands in the US, including Chipotle, GNC, PetSmart, NASCAR and Godiva.
Prior to Arson, I honed my retail experience holding executive positions at GameStop, Michaels, Tuesday Morning, Jo-Ann Stores, AT&T, and Blockbuster. I am also an award-winning instructor at Southern Methodist University, where I help train the next generation of business leaders.
I frequently speak at retail and marketing conferences around the world and have been quoted in global media outlets, including ForbesBarron’s, MSN, QSR and CPG Matters.