CLEVELAND - Halloween pop-up stores, which typically materialize a month or two before Oct. 31 and disappear shortly thereafter, have become as sure a sign of the holiday as candy corn, Stephen King reruns, and trees full of toilet paper.
This year, they're back big time. And no wonder. Consumers are expected to spend a record $8 billion on Halloween candy, costumes, and decorations, according to the National Retail Federation. Pet costumes alone are expected to fetch $370 million in sales.
So what's the trick of finding the best treats at a Halloween store? As we reported this time last year:
1. Don't go batty. The temporary nature of pop-ups can create a sense of excitement and urgency. So it's easy to feel that if you don't buy right away you'll miss out. While pop-ups usually carry a wider selection of Halloween merchandise than less specialized outlets, you may save by comparison shopping online or at the discount store down the block.
2. Ask about returns. If you need to return something, where do you take it or mail it after the pop-up has closed for the season? What kinds of items are returnable? (Costumes and inflatables, for example, sometimes aren't). Also ask if you'll have to pay a restocking fee to return something. You may need to search online for the answers. Pop-up store workers and even their managers are often temporary hires who may not know the company's policies.
3. Inspect the merchandise. That might not matter much with a $5 pair of Spock ears, but if you're spending $300 on a life-size animatronic werewolf, better take a close look before you buy.
4. Pay by credit card If you didn't get what you paid for, you may be able to dispute the charge through your card company. Debit cards and cash give you less leverage.
5. Haunt the clearance sales. Once Halloween is over, pop-ups have to pack up all their unsold merchandise and store it until next year. Not surprisingly, you can scare up some serious markdowns come Nov. 1.