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5 rules for shopping outlet stores

Most people know about outlet store savings – cheaper prices on off-season and refurbished goods. But you may not be getting the deal you expect.

By Stacy Johnson Nov 4, 2011 1:34PM

This post comes from Brandon Ballenger at partner site Money Talks News.


I live 30 minutes from what Wikipedia says is the sixth largest shopping mall in the country, one that has a lot of discount and outlet stores. But I only go there a few times a year.


For one, I'm not a big-on-brands shopaholic. But the main reason is because I don't think the "bargains" are that great. There are deals, no question there: Consumer Reports says the average savings at outlet stores is 38%. But there are downsides too. Stacy Johnson explains more in the video below. Check it out, then read on for details about how to save at outlet stores.

Outlet malls are often a long drive away, and the "deals" you find there sometimes aren't deals at all because the products aren't just less expensive, they're of  lower quality. According to an article on MSN Money, 82% of outlet products are made specifically to be sold there.

 

Between marked-up markdowns and the risk of lower-quality goods, I'll just stick to hitting the clearance racks at Target. But for those spirited shoppers who'll continue to brave the outlets, here are some ways to get the bargain you're looking for:

  • Ask about quality. A store associate can tell you if clothing was made specifically for outlet stores or for general retail sales. You also might find out about refurbished stuff and when off-season goods get moved to outlets.
  • Pay attention to detail. Shoppers familiar with a clothing line can tell the difference in material, cut and stitching, but the tag might also say "factory line," an indication of the stuff produced specifically for outlets. Even if the same material is used for the factory version, it may be thinner or have poorer lining, meaning it won't last as long before it rips or loses its shape.
  • Know the actual retail price. Those big signs that say "66% off"? They're usually talking about savings off the suggested retail price, which can sometimes be hugely inflated over the price the product actually sells for, especially if it's been on the rack for a while. This is part of a psychological game stores play, because they know we feel less guilty buying pricey stuff if we convince ourselves that we're actually saving a lot of money on it. People end up buying jeans worth $30 for $50 because the tag says they were originally $150. Check prices at the retail store and other shops before going to the outlet. And if you have a smartphone, you can do a quick comparison online while you're at the store.
  • Grab the coupons. Money Talks News deals diva Karla Bowsher is much more of a shopper than I am (check out her "4 tips for buying brand-name clothes on a budget") and is always finding discounts and coupons for clothes, which are regularly posted to our deals page. Start there, and sign up for emails from your favorite retailers for exclusives and first notice of sales. In the store, grab their sale ad and ask how to get other discounts.
  • Check clearance. The best deals are always on the stuff nobody else wanted or noticed and which the store is desperate to get rid of. Sometimes this means a bunch of size 0 and XXXL clothing in funky colors, but if you shop regularly and make a habit of checking you'll see when the good stuff gets moved to clearance and snag it first.

More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:

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