Tips for Outlet Mall Shopping


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A few things to know before any trip to the outlets.

If your idea of a great time is heading to the nearest outlet mall for a full day of shopping, you may not want to watch this story or read this article. Because it’s possible that after doing so you may never feel the same about outlet shopping again. But if you’re willing to risk it, read on and also read this MSN article: Are outlet malls for suckers?

What could be wrong with something so seemingly straightforward as outlet shopping? In short, this whole business model may be misleading by promising screaming deals but delivering little more than long drives, fake discounts and shoddy merchandise.

Let’s start with distance. Why are outlet stores often located so far from town? Is it A. Because the designer labels represented there require their discounted merchandise to be geographically distanced from their high-priced haute couture. B. Because they’re selling stuff so cheap they need cheap land and out in the sticks is the only place to find it; or C. Because they know that if they promise bargains you’ll drive any distance to get them, and once you’re in the sticks you’ll buy something to make the drive worth it, even if it isn’t really a bargain.

While in their infancy the answer to this question might have been A, these days it’s much more likely to be a combination of B and C: since outlet stores do know you’ll drive for bargains and do want to make as much as possible, they’ll locate in low-overhead areas, make you drive and count on you buying something after you’ve done so even if you can’t find a bargain.

And speaking of bargains, here’s your next question: You pick up a pair of jeans that has the original price marked as $150, which is now marked down to $50. Does that mean A. The department store in town has at this very moment that exact pair of jeans for $150. B. These jeans might have fetched $150 last year, but that was last year. They’re marked down to $50 because they’re last year’s style. C: The $150 price tag is completely fabricated and is there just to get you to pay $50 for a $40 pair of jeans.

Answer? Any of these scenarios are possible. But note that the only scenario in which you’re actually paying $50 for a $150 pair of jeans is answer A, which is the least likely. If they’re last year’s style, those jeans are no longer worth $150: they’d be discounted no matter where they were selling. And if they’re only worth $40? Ouch.

And speaking of ouch, let’s move to our last question, this time a true/false. Here’s the statement: “Some high-end labels deliberately manufacture lower-quality merchandise specifically so they can sell it to unsuspecting consumers in outlet stores.”

Did you answer “True”? Hopefully you did, because that statement is true. And if you’re not equipped to tell the difference, you’ll think you got a much better deal than you actually got.

Tips for Outlet Shopping

  1. Just Ask. Ask the salesperson: Is this pair of jeans the exact same as the ones at Neiman Marcus, or were they made specifically to be sold in outlet stores?
  2. Arm Yourself with Knowledge. Familiarize yourself with the stuff you’re shopping for by visiting a retail store first. How else can you possibly know if those jeans marked $150 are really $150 back in town?
  3. Details, Details. Note that items in outlet stores may be made of cheaper materials and with less workmanship, which makes them less of a bargain. See above.

Bottom line? What used to be straightforward… buying stuff direct from the factory at an outlet store…no longer is. It’s now a mix of true bargains and slimy merchandising. So if you’re not prepared to separate wheat from chaff, stay in town and shop online.

Stacy Johnson

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