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I used to think of outlets as a sanctuary to find amazing deals on brands I love. But after researching this story and making a trip to an outlet mall, my opinion has changed.
I recently trekked to a Gap outlet store hoping for big savings on quality pants. But I was surprised by what I found: jeans that looked noticeably different and of lower quality than the pairs I’d purchased from the mall back home. How could this be?
As it turns out, I wasn’t mistaken: According to Consumer Reports, Gap is one of several retailers that manufacture clothing specifically for their outlets, and these items may be different and of lower quality than what’s in regular stores. This isn’t the only trick retailers pull at their outlet stores, either.
Outlets still offer plenty of great deals that make the trip worthwhile, but some savings aren’t always what they seem. Before journeying out for a day of shopping, check out these tips from Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson.
Here are more tips to get the most from your outlet shopping experience.
1. Give outlet goods a closer look
Outlets aren’t just for items that didn’t sell at the retail store. Some offer “seconds” or “B-grade” goods, and many stores stock items that are only made for outlets, sometimes with noticeable differences in quality from what you’d find at the mall.
According to SmartMoney, 82 percent of products sold at outlets are made exclusively to be sold there. Gap, Brooks Brothers, and Coach admit they manufacture separate lines of goods exclusively for their outlet stores.
Outlet-only clothing and goods vary in quality, so be sure to take a close look. Some items might say “outlet” or “factory line” right on the tag, while others can be harder to spot. Does the item feel like it’s lighter? Does it look low-quality?
It’s possible the outlet version is cheaply made and won’t last as long as what you’d buy from the regular store, so factor in quality as well as price. On the other hand, some differences might be insignificant, and the savings may outweigh them.
2. Compare prices beforehand
Retailers know you’re looking for savings at outlet stores, and many try to make these discounts seem as deep as possible. You may see signs at the outlet store suggesting prices are 65 percent off, but keep in mind Consumer Reports says average savings are closer to 38 percent. You’ll often see mark-downs off the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, but outlet or not, customers rarely pay this “suggested” price.
If you want to know what you’re really saving, check the retailer’s website and compare prices. You may be surprised to find outlet discounts aren’t as big as they claim.
3. Join online outlet clubs
Premium Outlets and Tanger, two of the largest outlet operators with 70 and 35 malls respectively, offer exclusive promotions when you become a member of their “clubs.”
With Premium Outlets’ free VIP Club, you’ll receive online coupons and notifications of special events.
Tanger charges a one-time $10 fee to join TangerClub, but you’ll get a $10 gift card in return along with exclusive member offers and savings.
4. Get the best deals off-season
Shop for your winter clothing in the summer and for summer items in winter to bring outlet prices down even further.
5. Time your shopping trip
Outlets can be very busy, so you’ll do best by avoiding both congestion and picked-over shelves by shopping at off-peak times. Experts suggest stopping in on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays and shopping early in the day. If you’re not a morning person, avoid the early afternoon and wait until dinnertime.
6. Check retail stores before outlets
Try shopping the local mall during sales or with coupons, where you might find the prices to be comparable but the quality better. Don’t forget to look at clearance items both in the store and online too.
7. Check with outlet centers for coupons and circulars
Coupons and other discounts can make outlet shopping an even better deal. Call or go online to see if any coupons or circulars offer additional savings. Senior and military discounts might also be available.
8. Watch the return policy
Unless you plan to drive back to the outlet mall, check the return policy before loading up on discounted goods. Many regular stores don’t take returns from outlet locations.
9. Ask outlet staff
If you have questions about the quality of outlet items, don’t be afraid to ask store staff. Some employees may tell you if it’s made for the outlet or offer other valuable information.
10. Don’t fall into the day trip trap
Don’t see anything you like? Don’t be afraid to leave empty-handed.
Outlet malls are typically placed in far-away locations. Not only is this real estate cheaper, but shoppers may also look at outlet shopping as investing in a full-day trip. With the expenses of gas, time, and energy, shoppers may feel they need to justify the “sunk costs” and end up spending more than they would otherwise.
Ignore the impulse to spend more just to make the trip feel worthwhile. Shelling out more money for extra stuff won’t make you feel better no matter how much you spend on gas.