Holiday season is right around the corner! Black Friday followed by an endless month of shopping for gifts for family, friends, pets and just because someone got you a gift. Checklists galore and parking lot traffic. I know you will head over to shopping malls but most will go outlet shopping. Why not? It’s cheaper and the same quality right? It is overstock from the name brand stores that we can get for a better price, right?
(Also check this article from last year as well: http://breakfvst.com/2014/11/buyer-beware-what-youre-actually-getting-at-outlet-stores/)
According to Consumer Reports, several retailers that manufacture clothing specifically for their outlets, and these items may be different and of lower quality than what is in regular stores. This isn’t the only trick retailers pull at their outlet stores, either.
Outlets still offer plenty of great deals that can make the trip worthwhile, but some savings aren’t always what they seem.
Here are 10 Tips to Get the Best Deals From Outlet Shopping:
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 The Dallas Morning News, Saks outlets — Saks Off 5th — says only 12 percent of its goods are overstock from Saks Fifth Avenue stores. The rest was made specifically for the outlet location. Gap, Brooks Brothers and Coach admit they manufacture separate lines of goods exclusively for their outlet stores. Only 20 percent of what Nordstrom Rack sells is clearance merchandise from Nordstrom stores and website, according to this report, while the rest is bought expressly for the outlet.
Outlet-only clothing and goods vary in quality, so be sure to take a close look. Does the item feel like it’s lighter? Does it look low quality? Some items might say “outlet” or “factory line” right on the tag. Here’s a tip from Buzzfeed: “J.Crew Factory [the outlet for J.Crew] puts two diamonds under the “r” on its labels, while the Gap Outlet label uses three dots.”
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 those only apply to the sorts of things that haven’t sold despite repeated markdowns. Consumer Reports says the average savings are closer to 38 percent. You’ll often see markdowns 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.
(ED. NOTE: This one is pretty obvious isn’t it? I bought a winter jacket last summer that was originally $600 minus 70% = $180 minus an additional 20% sale and my mom’s senior discount 10% = $129.60! Not a bad deal!)
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.
7. Check with outlet center 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.
(ED. NOTE: Really, if you go shopping with mom or grandma, have them use their senior discount! 10% is 10% right?)
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, 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 daytrip 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 unneeded stuff won’t make you feel better, no matter how much you spend on gas.
Ari Cetron contributed to this report.