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Outlet malls, that shopping oasis typically located in between the place you are and the place you’re going. Dangling hopes of a bargain with every billboard you pass, their remote locations add to a customer’s craving for a good deal; you’d be crazy to leave empty handed after driving that far for a bargain.
American outlet malls have international appeal as well: Touring companies create whole vacations around them, routinely dropping shoppers by the busload, empty suitcases in hand to load up with goods.
But with crowds come business tactics, and as retailers recognize the profitability of attracting shoppers looking for a deal, they’ve turned outlet shopping into an industry unto itself, one that doesn’t help the consumer as much as you’d think. Here are some tips to keep your shopping savvy.
1. Don't Buy to Justify the Distance
Outlets are located in mostly far-flung areas for a couple of valid reasons. First, real estate and rental prices are more affordable off the beaten path, and second, off-price merchandise needs to be located a reasonable distance from its full-price counterpart. Who in their right mind would pay full price for Prada at their Fifth Avenue flagship if an outlet was a few blocks away?
But because you have to really want to go to an outlet to be there, there’s an urge to make the trip worth it. Even if you’ve had some time on the drive in to think about a store having the handbag of your dreams, it’s still possible to impulse-buy. If you truly don’t love an item, don’t get it to justify the schlep.
2. Don't Be Fooled by Exaggerated Discounts
Although some brands send their overstock or defective goods to an outlet, much of the merchandise was actually manufactured for the outlet. In other words, a company manufactured a less luxurious version of an item to be sold at a discounted price, but the item was never worth that much to begin with. Some analysts estimate up to 82% of products sold at outlets are made exclusively for outlets, and lawsuits have been brought against some major retailers for being deceptive about the practice.
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 fabric not feel as luxurious as what you’re used to? Is the leather trim really leather? Does the fit feel a little off? You might be getting something of lesser quality than the non-outlet brand, and in turn it might not last, which means you really didn’t save anything in the end.
That said, there might be great clothes at a price point that works for you: Just know what you’re getting into.
3. Do Know the Return Policies
If driving an hour to get to an outlet store was slightly annoying, imagine the prospect of driving it again to return an item. Then imagine being told all sales are final. If you’re on the fence about something, know the parameters for returns before you buy. While some outlets allow returns within a time frame if the tags are still on, others don’t allow at all. Also be aware that most stores don’t accept returns from their outlet counterparts, so don’t rely on that as backup for your buyer’s remorse.
4. Do Your Research
Finally, before you make your purchase, check to see that you really are getting a good deal. ShopSavvy is an app that scans barcodes and searches for better deals. The outlet mall itself might also have an app of its own that displays exclusive offers or coupons that can drive the price down even more.