Outlet stores offer plenty of great deals that can make the trip worthwhile, but some savings aren’t quite what they seem.
Following are 10 things to keep in mind before you shop at an outlet mall.
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 retailers stock items that are made just for their outlets, sometimes with noticeable differences in quality from what you’d find at the mall.
It’s possible the outlet version of an item 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 might 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% off, but those percentages only apply to the sorts of things that haven’t sold despite repeated markdowns.
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
Simon, a major retail property group, has “Premium Outlets” across the U.S. and Puerto Rico. With Premium Outlets’ free VIP Shopper Club, you’ll receive online and printable coupons and notifications of special events.
Tanger, another major U.S. outlet manager, charges a one-time $10 fee to join TangerClub, but you receive coupons and earn gift cards and other rewards at various “spend levels.”
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 get crowded, so you’ll do best at avoiding both congestion and picked-over shelves by shopping at off-peak times.
Experts suggest stopping in on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Shop 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 during sales or with coupons at the local mall, 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.
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 don’t mind driving 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, ask store staff. Some employees may tell you whether the items are made specifically for the outlet. Staff also might provide other valuable information.
10. Walk away if necessary
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 might also look at outlet shopping as investing in a full-day trip. With the expenses of gas, time and energy, shoppers might 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 unneeded stuff won’t make you feel better, no matter how much you spend on gas.
Outlet stores are just one way to find bargains, of course. If treasure hunting is your passion, don’t forget to check out other reports on shopping, including:
What’s your approach to outlets? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.
Ari Cetron contributed to this report.