10 tips to save on outlet shopping

Find out which items have been made just for the outlets, how to reap the benefits of VIP clubs, which days and times are best to shop and more.

By Stacy Johnson Nov 28, 2012 9:08AM

This post comes from Jeffrey Trull at partner site Money Talks News.


Money Talks News logoI used to think of outlet stores as a sanctuary of 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 seemed of lower quality than the pairs I'd purchased at the mall back home. How could this be?


As it turns out, I wasn't mistaken. According to Consumer Reports, the Gap is one of the retailers that manufacture clothing specifically for outlets. This isn't the only trick retailers pull at outlet stores.

Here are some tips to get the most from your outlet shopping experience.


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 made only for outlets, sometimes with noticeable differences in quality from what you'd find at the mall.


According to SmartMoney, 82% 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 as if it's lighter? Does the quality seem poor?


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.


Image: Price tag (© Hill Street Studios / Blend Images/Getty Images)Compare prices beforehand.

Retailers know you're looking for savings at outlet stores, and many try to make those discounts seem as deep as possible. You may see signs at the outlet store suggesting prices are 65% off, but keep in mind that Consumer Reports says average savings are closer to 38%. You'll often see markdowns from 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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 otherwise would.


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.


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