You haven't begun to think about the dreaded annual trek to the stores in search of that Pokemon costume in the right size, even though the kids have been nagging you for weeks.

Now, store shelves have thinned out, the popular costumes have been snatched up by forward-thinking parents and your children are giving you scary looks. You're hoping the Internet will bail you out.

But you may be too late there, too.

In preparation for Halloween, retailers such as Etoys Inc. expanded their online collection of creepy masks, witches' hats and insect costumes. Internet powerhouse Amazon.com Inc., debuted one of the largest assortments of Halloween costumes and decorations on the World Wide Web. Companies such as Lillian Vernon Corp. also encouraged online sales of their spooky products by advertising their companies' Web sites in their catalogues.

But an surge in online shopping for Halloween ware caught retailers by surprise, they said. Supplies of Pokemon and "Star Wars" costumes at even some big online retailers are running low or have been depleted. Several e-commerce sites, such as www.badplanet.com, already have run out of inventory and have stopped taking Halloween orders.

Greg Banta, owner of Bad Planet, a Crescent Springs, Ky., online retailer of high-end masks and costumes, said his company geared up for twice the number of orders that they handled last year. Instead, it was flooded with 10 times as many requests.

"Even with all the preparations we made and all the inventory we ordered, it was still an unbelievable amount," Banta said. "We got slammed."

There are no reliable estimates of online Halloween sales. That's because most retailers do not separate their Internet and Halloween revenue. Also, Internet research firms haven't paid much attention to a holiday that is distant second behind the all-important Christmas shopping season.

An informal survey of more than 2,000 cyber-shoppers by the online shopping guide Bizrate.com, however, indicated that Internet sales of Halloween costumes and other items would total $119 million this year.

Even so, that would be just a sliver of the total $5 billion in Halloween-related revenue anticipated this year at traditional stores, according to the Halloween Association. It also pales in comparison with projected online Christmas sales this year of $4 billion to $8 billion.

Nevertheless, the Halloween experience is something that brick-and-mortar costume shops are watching carefully?

"Internet [sales] are so small as to not impact major retailers and mail-order catalogues," said John Bardeen, president of the Halloween Association. "But you look to the future and say, 'It could just change the way people shop.' "

But last week, some industry observers were already grumbling that many cyber-retailers had missed the online Halloween trend and would not be able meet consumer demand.

"I think they weren't ready," said Mary Helen Gillespie, president of e-buyersguide.com. "I think they said, 'Great idea! Let's find something and see if it sticks.' I don't think they were prepared for it to be so sticky."

Hawking Halloween products online presents its own unique challenges. Most retailers can sell overstocked Christmas gifts well past the winter holiday, because shoppers still will snap up chenille sweaters, neckties and computer games. But they must rush to sell Halloween merchandise before Oct. 31. No one, they say, wants a ghoulish costume in November.

That's a compelling reason for companies to play it safe at Halloween. "We have a slightly different inventory strategy with our Halloween boutique," said Brian Birtwistle, toys product manager for Amazon.com.

Halloween also is more of a last-minute holiday--even more so than the Christmas selling season, several retailers said. Online retailers say up to 50 percent of Halloween costumes and decorations sold on the Internet last year were bought in the last two weeks of October.

"Halloween is our last fun holiday," Gillespie said. "It doesn't come with that traditional emotional baggage, the pressures, the family-type things. Because of that, no one dreads Halloween. And no one starts planning months ahead. It's like, oops, it's here."

The parade of online Halloween shoppers is led by moms and dads too busy to leave their homes or offices for a shopping trip. But it also includes organizers of Halloween haunted houses and hayrides.

Linda McKinstry, recreation director for the town of Scriba in upstate New York, said she was tired of driving back and forth to a costume store to stock up on merchandise for her department's haunted house. So for the first time, she ordered Halloween masks and costumes online this year from www.badplanet.com.

"I just found it was just as easy to sit here and type" on the computer keyboard, she said. "I can do many more things when I take only 10 minutes of the day to order something online."

McKinstry said she found prices to be cheaper online. She picked up a "Wizard of Oz" witch costume for $41, which includes a $9 shipping fee, while she found the same costume at a nearby store for $45.

But consumers may find last-minute Halloween shopping isn't such a bargain. Most online retailers are now charging express shipping fees that can total more than the amount of the purchase. In addition, several niche costume shops such as www.anniescostumes.com have closed their online doors.

And there are some places in cyberspace that seem too foreboding. Halloweenmart.com's home page bears a skull, dripping blood and these ominous words: "Absolutely NO REFUNDS or EXCHANGES after Oct. 15."

HALLOWEEN E-COMMERCE SITES

www.etoys.com

Selection/costume price range: About 115 costumes and accessories for infants and children; $6.99 to $42

Last safe day to order/shipping charges: Oct. 27 by express mail. Delivery within five business days is $7.95 to $9.95, depending on size and weight of items. Express shipping for delivery in three business days is $10.95 to $12.50.

Return policy: All items returnable

Notes: For girls, what's left is lot of Disney characters, Barbie and basic princess and bride costumes. Boys had a slightly wider selection yesterday that included "Star Wars" and wrestling characters.

www.amazon.com

Selection/costume price range: About 1,500 costumes and other Halloween items for everyone in the family, including infants and the dog. The Pokemon costumes were running low this week, and the Austin Powers Deluxes for adults were out. Adults can buy even risque costumes such as the Honeymoon Hysterics. $6.99 for infant ladybug costume to about $50 for adult's Chewbacca garb.

Last safe day to order/shipping charges: Oct. 27 by next-day air. $1.95 per item for second-day air, $6.95 for next-day air.

Return policy: All items returnable.

Notes: Among the best shipping prices for procrastinators. Also, check out the sizing chart at the bottom of the boutique page.

www.lillianvernon.com

Selection/costume price range: About 50 costumes for infants, children and adults, as well as Halloween house decorations including pumpkin welcome mats and eerie lights; $20 to $60

Last safe day to order/shipping charges: Oct. 24 at midnight by expedited mail. Regular shipping will not arrive in time. With expedited mail, you'll pay $8.25 plus standard shipping costs, which range from $4.75 (for orders up to$20) to $17.50 (for orders over $150).

Return policy: All items returnable

www.disneystore.com

Selection/costume price range: Six adult costumes, including Goofy and the Hag Witch Costume with sound, and 18 children's costumes based on Disney characters; $18 to $68

Last safe day to order/shipping charges: Oct. 25 by express shipping. Customers must use express shipping to get costumes before Halloween. $7.50 plus standard shipping costs, which total $6.20 for orders of $15.01 and $30 and so on.

Return policy: All items returnable

Notes: Nice costumes--if you can get in. The company's Web site was either busy or down yesterday afternoon.

www.learnandplay.com

Selection/costume price range: About 75 children's costumes, including the Teletubbies Tinky Winky and a number of "Star Wars" characters; $10 to $60

Last day to order/shipping charges: Oct. 27 by express shipping. Express fee of $6.95 plus normal shipping costs of $4.95 for orders under $15, $5.95 for orders of $15 and $24.99 and so on. Company is now waiving normal shipping costs on all orders over $50. Customers must use express shipping, even if they order now.

Return policy: All items returnable

Notes: Still had some popular costumes stocked in limited sizes, but the Web site was painfully slow yesterday.