That pop-up store where you buy your Halloween costumes and candy can be gone like a ghost once the big day is over -- so be careful, state authorities warn.
Halloween is the biggest shopping holiday of the year next to Christmas, with consumers nationwide shelling out an estimated $6.4 billion, according to a National Retail Federation survey, state Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino noted.
Much of it will be spent at pop-up stores that are now open but will shut down right after Halloween, leaving you with no way to return merchandise or redeem store credit, Porrino said.
They "come and go in a flash," he said, urging consumers to "know what questions to ask to avoid getting shortchanged.”
· Ask store personnel how long they plan to occupy the building. If they can’t give you a clear answer, consider that a major red flag that the store may not be on the up and up;
· Ask how you would be able to contact the store once it leaves, perhaps by website or an alternate address;
· Ask for specific details on returns: What types of merchandise will the store take back? Are unworn costumes returnable after October 31st? Will you get a full refund or store credit? How is store credit redeemable after the shop has closed for the season?
· Fully inspect and try on costumes before leaving the store. Halloween stores are busy places and mix ups occur. Don’t assume that the merchandise inside the box matches what’s on the label;
· Save all your receipts and pay by credit card so you can dispute unsatisfactory purchases through the card’s issuer;
· Shop at stores that have a proven track record of returning to your town year after year.
A task force comprised of investigators from the state Office of Consumer Protection within the Division of Consumer Affairs recently inspected 23 Halloween stores statewide to ensure compliance with consumer protection laws regarding pricing and refund policy postings. All were found complying with state laws, Porrino said.
That means clearly showing the total selling price -- either by plainly marking the item with a stamp, tag, label or sign or by displaying the price at the point where the merchandise is offered for sale, he said.
A retailer "also must conspicuously post its refund policy on a sign that is attached to the item itself, affixed to each cash register or point of sale, clearly visible to the buyer from the cash register, or posted at each store entrance used by the public," the attorney general said. "The sign must state whether the business issues refunds and under what conditions a refund will be given.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file an online complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504- 6200.