Q: It will be Halloween soon, and I still have yet to find a costume to wear, buy the candy, and set up the decorations. I plan to go shopping this weekend for my items, but does the BBB have any tips to keep in mind while I go Halloween shopping?
A: Once upon a time, Halloween was a day for pint-sized, candy-seeking witches and goblins. Today it is one of the biggest holidays of the year for children and adults alike. Research by the National Retail Federation revealed that nearly two-thirds of adults still plan to celebrate Halloween or participate in Halloween activities this year. Consumer spending on Halloween merchandise is predicted to reach $6.9 billion in 2013, with $2.53 billion projected to be spent on costumes alone (including adult, children's and pet costumes).
The Better Business Bureau advises consumers looking for that perfect Halloween costume to ask lots of questions when shopping at seasonal/temporary stores or online retailers.
Complaints about late delivery, poor quality and difficulty obtaining refunds for Halloween costumes and merchandise are common at the BBB. It may seem like you are getting a great deal, but it is important to research the company and its policies before making the purchase. Otherwise, you may find yourself without a costume or disputing a charge on your credit card.
The BBB offers consumers these tips when looking to buy Halloween merchandise:
• Research the company. Look for full contact information on the seller's web site, including a phone number, e-mail address, and a street address. Always check out the company on www.bbb.org before doing business.
• Read all terms and conditions carefully before you buy. Know the refund policy. Some stores may have time limits for returns and may not allow refunds for seasonal merchandise such as Halloween costumes. Others may only provide store credit for returns.
• Ask how long a store will operate. If you are buying from a seasonal store, ask them whether they will be open after the holiday and whether they will accept returns when the season is over. Remember that seasonal and temporary stores have the same responsibilities as those who serve shoppers year round: they must display their refund and return policies prominently.
• Read the fine print when renting a costume. Understand the liabilities if something happens to the costume, if it must be cleaned before return, etc.
• Pay by credit card. If something goes wrong, you may be able to dispute the charges with your credit card company.
• Guard your personal information. If you are buying a costume online, only provide your credit card information in a secure environment. Look for the prefix "https://" in the URL box which lists the website's address to be sure that the site you are using is secure.
• Keep documentation. Save copies of the order confirmation and receipts.
• Examine your costume as soon as it arrives. If it doesn't fit, or isn't what you ordered, contact the seller as soon as possible.
If you are not satisfied with your purchase and have already contacted the company, you may file a complaint with the BBB at www.bbb.org.
Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga