Outlet shopping: Getting your money’s worth
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.