Who knows what lurks in the bones of retail consumers? Skelly knows.
By: Jenn McMillen
The 12-foot, $299 skeleton, introduced by Home Depot in 2020, has evolved from a novelty yard ornament to a mascot for (we’re assuming) tens of thousands of U.S. households. On July 15, two years after “Skelly’s” introduction, Home Depot once more sold out of the item in its annual “Halloween in July” promotion, USA Today reported.
Now entering its third Halloween, the decoration nicknamed Skelly is revealing what it takes for a once-risky product to persevere, and loom even larger. Home Depot has been adding giant spin-off goods – a towering “Inferno Pumpkin” skeleton for $379, a “Hovering Witch” (a best seller at $299) and, introduced this year, a $399 “Immortal Werewolf,” more than 9 feet tall.
What lurks in the bones of Skelly’s buyers? In an earnings conference call in August, transcribed by Motley Fool, Home Depot Chief Financial Officer Ted Decker attributed the brisk July sales to its customers’ resilience: “…we sold out in – I don't even know if it was hours, how quickly, (but) people are spending $300 for a clearly discretionary item.”
As of Oct. 12, Skelly remained sold out on Home Depot’s website.
Dark Shadows: Skelly Takes On Inflation
What’s instructional about Skelly’s success is that since gracing the lawns of homes in 2020, he (let’s just call it a he) has endured despite the troubled economy. Consider: In 2020, Home Depot reported its most successful Halloween to date. The prospect of beating that record appears solid, despite record inflation, assuming Home Depot can meet demand.
Skelly’s brisk sales in July contributed to the highest quarterly revenue in Home Depot’s history – $43.8 billion. Due to Skelly sell-outs, there now exists a 12-foot skeleton black market, including knock-offs on AmazonAMZN +3.5% offered for north of $500. Further, Lowe’s and Costco have introduced their own higher-priced skeleton alternatives – an animatronic mummy at Lowe’s ($348) and a 10-foot animated reaper at Costco ($320).
What is in those polyethylene bones that gives Skelly such strength? Perhaps it’s that he defies what fate throws our way. His 60-pound frame has embodied both fear and joy throughout a period when the former is in rich supply and the latter in much demand. Many who erect Skelly are giving a grinning middle-fingerbone 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 mark on American society.”
Skelly Tales: 4 Revelations About Consumer Behavior
Indeed, Skelly’s steady march onto American properties speaks volumes not only about consumer impulse, but also of the savviness among the merchandising experts at Home Depot.
If Skelly could speak, this may be what he would tell retailers and brands:
- Use a little backbone to justify that high price. Skelly is an expensive Halloween decoration, but many who invest in him are figuring out ways to get more bang from their $299, and Home Depot is watching. Some homeowners use him year-round, dressing him up for each holiday, including Gay Pride month and Christmas (think Skelly Claus). One couple in New Jersey decorated their Skelly as a wedding altar, CNN reports. To fuel this creativity, Home Depot dedicates a full web page to Skelly basics, including maintenance and “year-round 12-foot skeleton ideas,” such as a top hat for New Year’s and sunglasses and trunks for the summer.
- When unsure, people will go big. In uncertain times, unexpected, larger-than-life products are more prone to get noticed. In Skelly’s case, the confidence he embodies – a $299 skeleton is a risk, but also a dare – got noticed. Lance Allen, Home Depot’s senior merchant of holiday décor, told MarketWatch that when his team designed Skelly, they originally aimed to make him 10 feet tall. But knowing consumers tend to one-up their decor, and considering the isolation of the pandemic, they decided to “shoot for the stars,” and upped him to 12 feet. Those two feet elevated Skelly to a two-story figure and might have made the difference.
- When it comes to sales, social media has backbone. Halloween decor is a big social media event, and Skelly lurched directly into the spotlight in July 2020. By early October, the “Home Depot Skeleton” feed on TikTok attracted nearly 35 million views. The resulting competition to post images that are more elaborate causes many to invest in pricey decorations like Skelly, and to start earlier: Consumers report spending as much as 40% more with brands that reach them via social media, according to OptinMonster. Not surprising, then, that a slew of brands, including Budweiser and Sour Patch Kids candy, incorporated themselves with Skelly on social media, as AdAge revealed.
- Consumers know it’s going tibia-alright. Nine in 10 consumers expect inflated prices to remain high, according to a September survey by WSL Strategic Retail in New York. Yet fewer than half of all consumers – 43% – have cut back on 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 appears to understand this decision-making context – as well as the issue of price gouging – by never raising Skelly’s $299 price tag since his launch.
That Skelly clings to the imaginations of consumers communicates an enduring urge for control in an environment of heightened unpredictability. It proves not only how sturdy the bones of good product planning can be, but also the calcification of the consumer’s will to rise above challenge.
Skelly reveals, ultimately, what lurks in the hearts of consumers.
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I have been building and sharing expertise in the retail industry for 20+ years. My wheelhouse includes customer relationship management, shopper experience, retail marketing, loyalty programs and data analytics. My perspective is unique because I have both extensive retail/client and agency/consultant experience.
In 2015 I founded Incendio, a firm that builds and fixes marketing, consumer engagement, loyalty and CRM programs. Incendio is a trusted partner of some of the biggest brands in the U.S., including Chipotle, GNC, PetSmart, NASCAR and Godiva.
Before Incendio, I honed my retail expertise filling executive roles at GameStop, Michaels, Tuesday Morning, Jo-Ann Stores, AT&T and Blockbuster. I’m also an award-winning instructor at Southern Methodist University, where I’m helping train the next generation of business leaders.
I frequently speak at retail and marketing conferences around the world and have been quoted in global news outlets including Forbes, Barron’s, MSN, QSR and CPG Matters.