What to Know About Outlet-Store Shopping

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My husband and I did a little outlet-mall shopping Sunday (Mother's Day, of all days). I bought two pairs of shorts for 25% less than similar ones at Jcrew.com. I also bought two dresses for my daughters; one 40% less than the same dress online and the other 43% less than the cheapest dress on the retailer's site (there was no similar dress). However, the headbands that I bought them were just $1 less than the online sale price.

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My husband purchased a pair of jeans, dress pants and shoes that all were 40% less than similar items on BananaRepublic.com. He also bought two pairs of shorts that were 50% cheaper than similar ones online.


So did we get good deals? Notice that most of the time I said "similar" items. The products merchants sell in their outlets stores aren't always the same as what you find in their retail stores or Web sites. And the discounts on the clothing we got were good but not incredibly deep.

Cheapism.com , a site that provides reviews for budget products, did a study to compare retail versus outlet stores to find out what sort of savings consumers can expect. Based on Cheapism.com's findings, here's what you should know about outlet stores:

Prices aren't as low as you'd think. Brand-name merchandise won't be dirt cheap at outlets because it's expensive to begin with. Sometimes outlet prices are only a few bucks lower than retail prices (remember my headband example?). According to Cheapism.com's study, most of the savings come from frequent sales and promotions that outlet stores run. A salesperson at one outlet store told Cheapism.com that clothing usually sells for the full outlet price for about a week after it arrives, then items are quickly marked down and remain discounted for the rest of their time in the store.

On average, consumers can expect to save close to 30% off regular mall prices by shopping at outlets. But note that the MSRPs, or retail prices, printed on outlet tags should be viewed skeptically because many of the items were never sold in retail stores. So it pays to be familiar with the retail prices of items you want to buy so you'll know whether you're getting a bargain.

Coupons can help lower prices more. Some outlets e-mail coupons and promotions to customers who sign up for their mailing lists. For example, customers who sign up for Premium Outlets' VIP Shopper Club get exclusive online coupons and a voucher for a free coupon book. So check outlet Web sites before you shop to look for special offers. According to Cheapism.com's report, AAA members may qualify for additional discounts.

Quality varies. Some retailers use their outlet stores to liquidate anything that didn't sell in their mall stores or to unload slightly damaged items. Others manufacture more of certain retail items to sell in outlets. The prices are lower in the outlet because the retailers are cutting out the middle man and going directly to the consumer. And companies make product lines specifically for their outlet stores and sell them at lower prices because they use cheaper materials or skip extra embellishments. However, the quality on these made-for-outlet lines usually still is good, according to Cheapism.com's research.

Return policies vary. Some outlet stores let you return unused merchandise at any time as long as it still has the price tag on it and you have the receipt. Others have 90-day or 120-day return policies. Some stores, however, don't allow any returns. So always ask for a store's policy before you make a purchase.

As long as you're aware of these things, outlets malls can be a good deal. The items we bought at the outlet stores were close enough to what the retailers were offering online, but at a better price. Plus, we didn't have to pay for shipping.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The NASDAQ OMX Group, Inc.



This article appears in: Personal Finance , Insurance

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