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Finding a Costume Online More Trick Than Treat

October 19, 2000|JENNIFER LOWE | jennifer.lowe@latimes.com

My friend Lily, 8, wants to be a scary witch this Halloween. So I suggested that we hunt for a costume online. Lily's mom, who always pursued dress-up garb at retail stores, was happy to comply.

But our Internet outing was a flop. We surfed more than a dozen Web sites, ordered costumes from three, and Lily didn't like the only one that fit. Sizing charts--if they could be found--used fuzzy math. Standard shipping took 10 days or longer, but express shipping cost almost as much as some costumes. Worse yet, many sites had limited return policies, and because I never saw one site's, I got stuck with a costume.

By the time we'd unpacked the last of the orders, I had declared disaster. I've been buying online for several years, but this was the worst experience yet. It started well. I began at HauntedPlanet.com, which advertised "movie-quality" costumes and masks. But no matter where I clicked, I couldn't find shipping charges. I soon learned this was standard for some costume sites, many of which are outgrowths of Halloween stores around the country, which are outgrowths of what is now the second-biggest retail holiday of the year. Halloween247 at least had a search function so I could type in "witch," and the "Wendy the Witch" outfit for $15.99 looked cute. But the costume on my screen had just a picture and a price--no size. Fortunately EToys.com offered a sizing chart. But luxuries cost; its pretty witch costume was $44.99, plus it wasn't one bit scary. I did scan the site's posted comments from Lynn, the mother of a 4-year-old in Cincinnati, who said buy one size up.

By now, the sizing issue frustrated me more than poor Web sites. Lily's mom said Lily was big for her age, so order "big." In a store, I could look at a costume and have a good idea if it would fit. But most of the sites' small pictures weren't helpful. I liked the Witch of the Web costume at Halloweenshop.com for $31.60, shipping included. The person in the photo looked like a woman--not a girl--so I ordered a medium.

Amazon.com, which has teamed with Toys R Us, had 38 hits when I used its search engine--including a child's extra-large witch costume for $29.99. Even Amazon, though, one of the most orderly sites in cyberspace, seemed confused about sizes; one child's costume was for sizes 7-10 (usually sizes run odd or even). Shipping was $5.56.

I also ordered from Spencergifts.com a costume in a child's large (size 12-14) for $19.99. I threw in a broom, $2.99, and hat, $5.99, and paid $5.95 in shipping.

The Amazon package came in four days,the Spencergifts and Halloweenshop packages in 10. Fortunately, the Spencergifts costume fit. It ran true to size, and was stretchy to boot. But as soon as Lily slipped her arms in those fancy black spider web sleeves, she said, "They're kinda scratchy." The pointy hat studded with gold stars and the skinny broom, though, were keepers.

Unfortunately, the Amazon costume looked as if it would fit Lynn from Cincinnati's 4-year-old. And Halloweenshop's Witch of the Web, turned out to be a little child's size indeed--too small. If I'd shopped the site by category, I would have known it was a child's costume, but I'd used its search engine.

Back went the Amazon costume (I had 30 days to return it). And though I wanted to return the Halloweenshop costume, I learned through e-mailing the company that opened costumes could not be returned, while unopened costumes were subject to a 30% restocking fee. I must have missed that on the Web site or it wasn't there my first visit. Thank goodness for Lily's mom. Out came the thrift store black skirt from last year's gypsy costume, a black sweatshirt from Target, shoes and a witch hat from the Goodwill store, and striped socks from a costume shop. Lily was a scary witch, proving that the old-fashioned fun of shopping for a Halloween costume saved us from a witch hunt.

*

Jennifer Lowe is deputy food editor of the Times.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Shopping goal: A scary witch costume

Why? Who wants to visit a dozen crowded Halloween stores?

Where: I ordered from http:/ / www.amazon.com , http://www.spencergifts.com and http://www.halloweenshop.com , but hit more sites than pumpkins in a patch.

The good: Nothing.

The bad: Most sites had no explanations about sizes, though a few, such as EToys.com, had sizing charts. Standard shipping takes too long, so pay for express shipping (if you can find the information) to receive orders by Halloween. Returns are limited. Read policies carefully, and don't order from sites with policies unacceptable to you.

Grade for the experience: D. You'd think the Internet could do this well and save you time.

Would I try again: No, thanks.

Lily's final costume: Though she liked the look of Spencergifts.com's witch costume, it was too scratchy. So the e-tailing costumes were abandoned. Instead, Lily was happy with a costume her mom put together for $24 from thrift stores, a costume store and Target.

Costume costs: $24 for Lily's mom versus $37.31 for Spencergifts.com's costume (the only one that fit), including broom, hat, tax and shipping.

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