Halloween is this week and retailers have been rolling out pumpkins and witches’ hats to conjure up business.

Over the last few years, Halloween has become a big feature on the calendar for many UK retailers.

As it has gained traction, the windows and displays associated with it have become more elaborate. For some it’s just a matter of shifting large numbers of pumpkins, a seasonal squash that really isn’t put to much other use in this country.

For others it’s a chance to indulge in a flight of fantasy and to do something different from the normal run-of-the-mill visual merchandising.

Hedonism Wines, Mayfair

Located on Davies Street in London’s Mayfair, Hedonism Wines is a luxury wine shop and is possibly the most complete, store-wide example of what is possible VM-wise in the West End.

Stand outside the shop and there are the usual pumpkins, but head indoors and it is quickly apparent that no corner has been left untouched as far as making the most of Halloween is concerned.

For starters there is the floor, which has been strewn with dying leaves, creating an end-of-autumn feel. Look up and the pendant lights have been covered in cobwebs, and at almost every turn there is a crow looking at you, joining the black bat silhouettes that hang from the lights.

It is the installations that really catch the eye though. Ranging from vintage furniture on which dolls are positioned to a chair over which a hangman’s noose has been casually draped, this is a store where the surprising and disturbing are on hand at every turn.

Pull & Bear, Oxford Street

The Inditex young fashion fascia’s Oxford Street store has its windows filled with mannequins. Nothing terribly unusual about this, but the skills of the visual merchandiser have been deployed to provide the figures with ghoulish make-up of the kind that might once have graced a character in a Hammer House of Horror show. The mannequins have been dressed in standard store, but their faces and the addition of some black headwear make this an arresting window.

And to reinforce what has been done, a backdrop featuring a yellow moon, a silhouette black cat and a haunted castle has been added, creating the appropriate seasonal mood.

This is a relatively low-cost scheme, given that mannequins and stock were probably already on hand, but it is hard to walk along the street and not notice it. It is also one of the few fashion retailers that appears to have made an effort for Halloween this year.

John Lewis, Oxford Street

The bulk of the Halloween display in John Lewis is in the food hall in the store’s basement and here there are the pumpkins shoppers expect.

That said, the store display team has done rather more than merely setting out row upon row of the things, opting instead to use rustic wicker baskets and vintage wooden packing crates to display the merchandise.

To this has been added the obligatory tangle of cobwebs, bottles of maple syrup (well, it is a US-dominated festival) and of course an offer - ‘buy 2 large Halloween pumpkins for £5’.

Reference is made around the rest of the store to October 31 with tables featuring Halloween gingerbread skeletons and suchlike, and there are cupcakes decorated with orange pumpkin faces placed under belljars.

Externally, the retailer has used one of its side-street windows to bring together all its Halloween merchandise.

Asda, Park Royal

Perhaps in part owing to US parent Walmart, the Halloween shop at Asda has become almost as much an in-store fixture at this time of year as the festival itself. A long aisle is devoted to the category, and if shoppers want their children to dress the part then this is where many will head.

Dubbed ‘The Big Shop of Horrors’ and with the price message hammered firmly home, this part of the store looks more toyshop-cum-novelty arcade than supermarket and almost everything that might be associated with the big night is available.

As a piece of visual merchandising, this is a straightforward effort with an aisle-long, spooky decal applied to the floor that invites shoppers to parade its length and consider whether a mask, cloak or hat would be appropriate, or perhaps all three. It is hard to keep this sort of display looking good and on the early evening of visiting, the area might have benefited from a little more attention. Nonetheless, it was a comprehensive and strongly promoted offer.

Whole Foods Market, Camden

The Whole Foods Market branch on Camden’s Parkway is where shoppers might reasonably expect the stops to have been pulled out for Halloween. And indeed the US food retailer hits customers between the eyes from the moment
they near the store with a blackboard outside advertising a ‘kids’ Halloween party’, taking place on Sunday.

Another board promotes ‘wicked good treats’ - a theme picked up in store on one of the gondola ends that is topped by some meticulously carved pumpkins.

The rest of the small store is filled with references to All Hallows’ Eve with bats, more pumpkins and witches’ faces all playing their part.

There is a very American feel to what has been done and it was having the desired effect on small children who were passing by.

Again, this was a simple promotion but one effectively executed.

Marks & Spencer, Marble Arch

The Marks & Spencer flagship has a very large food hall in its basement, cheek-by-jowl with the kids’ clothing area.

Surprisingly, although there were a couple of units that had been devoted to Halloween, one for foodstuffs and the other for novelty scary items, there was almost nothing in the children’s clothing area.

M&S was, like others, anxious to push the value message of its Halloween category with a sign stating ‘3 for 2 mix & match cheapest item free’. The display did have the merit of putting everything relating to the festival in one place and perhaps ensuring that a large clearance will be not be required post October 31. It was, nevertheless, lacklustre in terms of product and the display.

At least M&S had not opted just to throw a few pumpkins at the problem and then to stand back - a strategy that did seem to have been adopted by the majority of food retailers.