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Outlet shopping: Getting your money’s worth

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Who doesn’t like a bargain? I know I do. And anytime I go to the beach on vacation, I head for the outlet malls. One-stop shopping for everything from clothes, shoes and handbags to housewares and home furnishings to luggage and more, with labels I know and trust. And at prices that can’t be beat.

Well, even though I write about consumer issues every day, I have to admit that I was clueless that much of the merchandise sold at outlet stores is manufactured exclusively for them, and may be of lesser quality than the merchandise sold at non-outlet retail locations. The industry says it’s responding to customer demand for merchandise that’s similar to what’s sold in the regular retail stores, but at a lower price point. Just as long as you know that, you can make sure you’re satisfied with the price you’re paying for what you’re getting.

While I seriously doubt that my outlet shopping will stop, I now consider myself a better informed consumer; I’ll certainly be a little more selective when I make outlet purchases. Here are a few tips I’ve picked up in my research. I hope they’ll help you be a more selective shopper, too.

  • It pays to be familiar with the retail prices of items you want to buy so you'll know whether you're really getting a bargain. Don’t have time? There are apps that can compare prices for you.
  • Recognize that if you’re buying something that looks new and undamaged, the price may be lower for a reason. For example, plastic might replace leather trim on a jacket, or a t-shirt may have less stitching and a lighter weight fabric. If top-quality is important, you may want to keep shopping. But if it’s the style or the look that’s key, quality may be a lower priority.
  • If you’re unsure whether the store sells “made-for-outlet” only merchandise or how to tell the difference between it and regular retail merchandise for sale, ask the staff.
  • Shop for off-season merchandise. It typically comes at bargain prices.
  • Ask about return policies. Some outlet stores let you return unused merchandise any time as long as the price tag hasn’t been removed and you have the receipt. Other stores have 90-day or 120-day return policies. Some don't allow any returns.
  • Many regular retail stores won't take returns from their outlet stores. That’s something to ask your neighborhood retailer about, too.

There’s no question that outlets can offer a good deal. To ring up real savings, though, you have to know what they’re selling — and what you’re buying.

Blog Topics: 
Money & Credit


Thanks FTC for revealing this information. I am a retired worker from a distribution center store of very familiar with the consumers. The warning above is very valid and these outlet stores get second handed merchandise and with a minor flaw not seen many times. I checked for quality and how the garments are sewed together. I am a past worker of a sewing factory also. My insight when looking at clothing is very unique and observing. I am teaching my grandchildren the principles, just because it is discounted, does not mean it is quality. The society and factories today are doing quantity and not quality. Why do we have so many outlets today???? We need to stop and ask the question: "Am I getting my monies worth?" Washing the garment is as another question: "Will it shrink or loose the color?" Many times it does and them our monies has gone down the drain. We throw way enough monies for every one to be rich without even thinking. My suggestion is check and observe all polices of the store and if this is quality or quantity merchandise??? When we see a table full of same color, style, or price stop and give some thoughts to the merchandise.

I don't think I am an outlet shopper.
I perfur quality opposed to quantity, on a scale of 1 - 5 though it could be nice to have both! However, I appreciate a bargain, if it takes my needs, etc., into consideration. I certainly appreciate quality assurance.

Not only are the items they sell at "outlet" stores of lesser quality but they mark UP the prices to make you think something is regularly $49.99 and then say its half off and so you think you're getting it for only $25 but in reality its regularly $29.99. "Outlet" stores aren't the only ones to do this either. Kohl's is NOTORIOUS for doing this. THIS is what the FTC should be investigating. We as citizens of the United States SHOULD demand this! Also lets demand all the clothes sold be NON-Toxic! Some of the clothes are causing infertility in people.

and just how do you know clothes are causing infertility !!!!!

Very enlightening. Is Walmart considered an outlet? Shopping there really helps. I don't hear the employees griping either.

Please help me with this long term promble that I am having with Invention Help. I am still under contract with is company from 2012 to present. I have a special pair of glass that I have invented to protect your face from the sun... They told me that they would shope this product around for me... On May 19 2014 . I was on the internet and saw my glasse that I submitted to them in 2012, The movies starts in Los Angles, Los Vegas are wearing the glasses I have worked so hard to get pattern. I dont have any ideal of how this got out and my glasses are being worn by the starts.... No one have called me about this matter. I try to talk to invention help people on the phone. Their comment to me was there is nothing I can do about your matter. I am still paying them each month at the cost of 299.00 each month and nothing is happen.. The only thing is they have my money and someone else has my ideals ....They are making money off my hard work.This idea came about because I had a brain Tumor on my Brain. I have been working for the last 3 years on this and I need help on how to stop payment to this company, without and negative backlash from them....What can I do... I have spend all my money on this project and this is the thanks I get. Please help me.. This is not far or right for how they are doing me. Phyllis

You may have no recourse if you did not apply for a patent. I am not sure why you are paying $299 each month to these people, but I suggest you contact an attorney. I hope you have copies of all of you designs and applications, correspondence, etc. Good luck, and beware in the future of companies like this - they are well known for ripping people off.

I know about clothings, if you see the outlet store that has alot of colors and you can find any size that you want, that Im sure 99% it's exclusively made for the outlet store. Why? The true meaning of "Outlet" was the stores have to move their off-season merchandise out of their floor and make room for new / seasonal merchandise. And before that the stores will have to mark-down and try to sell as many pieces as possible. Anything leftover are to be sold to jobbers and/or outlets. Merchandise as such will normally have only odd sizes and/or a piece of this style and that style so forth and so on. Thats why as I said if you see alot of colors /sizes anything that you want...they're definitely made exclusively for outlet. I hope it helps.

Outlet stores are COMPLETELY running themselves, at least for a decade now, in violation of CONSUMER PROTECTION ACT. We shouldn't HAVE to ask store associates what items are 'made for Outlet' & which ones are true store overstock. IT IS ILLEGAL to 'make up' MSRP of (an) item & put a 'suggested' sale value on them. ILLEGAL. Did I mention: ILLEGAL? In addition, places like ULTA, also for at LEAST 10+yrs, has offered FREE 'Gifts w/Purchases', but put a retail $$$ value on them & will NOT give a refund on Items unless GWP is accompanied w/it. If you do return w/o GWP: They REDUCE YOUR ITEM's PRICE to make up the lack of a *FREE* item o_O And FTC has allowed this to persist BEEE_CAAAUSE???.....

Is TJmaxx a outlet store?

Always wondered why the have so much stock for same style and colors. This is highway robbery. It's the huge signs with huge markdowns is what make this so so wrong!

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