Like Dracula risen from the grave, pop-up stores are back for Halloween. The temporary shops, which typically open a month or two before the big day and close shortly thereafter, have become a holiday tradition in recent years. One major chain, Spirit Halloween, a Spencer Gifts subsidiary, has close to 1,000 locations in the United States and Canada this time around. No wonder. Despite today's scary economy, consumers are expected to spend a record $6.86 billion this Halloween season, according to Kathy Grannis, a spokesperson for the National Retail Federation. What's the trick of finding the best treats at a Halloween pop-up store?
Don't go crazy. The here today, gone tomorrow nature of pop-ups creates a sense of excitement and urgency with consumers, notes Christina Norsig, CEO of PopUpInsider and author of a forthcoming book on the phenomenon. 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 assortment of Halloween merchandise than less specialized outlets, you may save by comparison shopping online or at a conventional store down the street.
Ask about returns. What types of merchandise will the store take back? Costumes, for example, may be difficult to return at pop-ups, as well as other retailers, especially if the packaging has been opened or damaged. Inflatable decorations might not be returnable at all. If you need to return something, where do you take it or mail it after the pop-up has closed for the season? Also ask if you'll have to pay a restocking fee, typically a percentage of the purchase price, for the privilege of returning something. You may need to search online for the answers. Pop-up store workers and even their managers are often temporary hires who might not know the company's policies.
Inspect the merchandise. That might not matter much with a 99-cent clown nose or $1.99 set of fangs. But if you're spending $70 on a fog machine or $700 on a Darth Vader costume, better take a close look before you buy.
Pay by credit card. Then, if you didn't get what you paid for, you may be able to dispute the charge through your card company. Use cash, and it's gone.
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 snag some drastic markdowns come Nov. 1. A spokesperson for Spirit Halloween, for example, says to expect "extreme discounts of at least 50 percent off." So if you've always wanted a talking tombstone or giant inflatable tarantula but were scared off by the pre-Halloween price tag, this could be your chance.