NEWARK – With Halloween fast approaching, the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs today warned seasonal shoppers to beware of retail pop up stores that can vanish like ghosts when Halloween is over, leaving them with no way to return merchandise or redeem store credit.
Next to Christmas, Halloween is the biggest shopping holiday of the year, with consumers across the country expected to shell out $6.4 billion on costumes, candy and holiday décor, according to the National Retail Federation's annual survey. Much of that money will be spent at "pop up" Halloween stores, retailers that set up shop in rented commercial spaces several weeks before the holiday and close up shortly afterward.
The stores are a frenzy of pre-Halloween activity, selling a vast array of hair-raising costumes, creepy decorations and other ghoulish goods needed for a "spooktacular" celebration. But they often pack up and clear out of their rented space long before the last piece of Halloween candy has been eaten.
"We want consumers to be aware that these "pop-up" stores come and go in a flash, so shoppers need to be extra careful when making purchases," said Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino. "Know what questions to ask to avoid getting shortchanged."
"When it comes to pop-up stores, it's more important than ever for consumers to inspect merchandise thoroughly and know their rights ahead of time," said Steve Lee, Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. "When a consumer returns to a store to complain about a defective item and finds the merchant has packed up and left without a trace, there is not much hope of getting a refund."
In anticipation of the 2016 Halloween shopping season, a task force comprised of investigators from the 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.
New Jersey requires all merchants to affix to the merchandise 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. 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 sign must state whether the business issues refunds and under what conditions a refund will be given.
The task force's pre-Halloween inspections revealed no violations of these laws, but when it comes to "pop-up" stores, consumers must be extra vigilant to avoid losing out. The Division offers these tips for safe shopping:
Tips to Avoid a Frightening Shopping Experience at Halloween Pop-up Stores:
- 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.
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.
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