published Friday, October 19th, 2012

Biz Bulletin: Trick or treat? Use caution on Halloween purchases

By Jim Winsett
  • photo
    BBB Chief Exective Jim Winsett
    Photo by Leigh Shelle Hunt

Q Last year I had a friend who lost his deposit on renting a Halloween costume. Does the BBB have advice to keep from getting tricked when buying Halloween treats?

A Looking to buy or rent a fun Halloween costume this season? You are not alone.

According to the National Retail Federation, a record 170 million Americans will spend close to $8 billion on candy, pumpkins, decorations and costumes — both for them and for their pets. Canadians will spend even more … about $75 per person (most of it on costumes). It is a holiday we love, and retailers respond to that with specialty stores that set up shop in October and are gone the minute Halloween is over.

When shopping at seasonal, temporary Halloween stores, and especially last-minute, it is important to exercise caution. Better Business Bureau is advising shoppers to know the red flags and read the fine print to avoid fly-by-night costume vendors. Even if the store has a returns policy, you should go in with the assumption that whatever you buy is yours to keep, no matter what.

Here are some BBB tips to make sure your Halloween is “spooktacular” fun:

• Do your research. Many seasonal stores are run by reputable retailers who take advantage of short-term leases on vacant space to set up temporary stores to augment their permanent space, but other shops may be in and out in a matter of weeks. While it is always good to check out a shop’s BBB Business Review at www.bbb.org, some seasonal businesses change their name from one year to the next as a way of disguising a poor track record. Ask around and know with whom you are doing business before getting “tricked.”

• Read the fine print. Just because it is a seasonal store does not mean that the store or the business backing it up does not have the same responsibilities as a year-round operation. Make sure to note the store’s refund and return policies to understand all of the terms and conditions — they have to be made available.

• Know what to expect before renting a costume. Rental costumes tend to be higher quality and more elaborate than the average Halloween costume and you can often find something unique. Make sure you understand your responsibilities. What happens, for example, the costume rips, you get a stain on it, or you lose it altogether? Do you have to pay for the whole costume? What about the cleaning? Make sure everything is detailed and spelled out in the rental agreement.

• When purchasing costumes online, do it securely. Check a site’s security settings. If the site is secure, its URL (web address) should start with “https://.” You also may see a small picture of a closed lock in the lower right corner of the screen.

Get answers to your questions each Friday from Jim Winsett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Inc., which serves Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. Submit questions to his attention by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN, 37401-1447, or by e-mailing him at dflessner@ timesfreepress.com.

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