We’ve all done it. We’ve seen the signs for the outlet malls from the interstate while on vacation and pulled off the road to seek bargains. Do you actually save money at the outlet malls? Here are 7 smart purchases you can make while you’re on the road this Summer:
Some companies cut corners on made-for-outlet merchandise, so they can sell it at lower prices than they charge at retail. They may use cheaper fabric, for instance, or incorporate less embellishment. With Quiksilver, we found the quality at the outlet comparable to what we saw from the brand at PacSun and Nordstrom retail stores.
One way outlets seduce customers is by listing not only the current price for a particular item on the tag, but also the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, or MSRP. We found a Coach handbag with an MSRP of $348 selling for $169 at the brand’s factory store. However, a helpful salesperson pointed out that an “F” in the style number on the label classified the bag as a made-for-outlet piece. It had never seen a retail-store shelf and therefore never commanded a higher price. Neither had a black leather tote from Kate Spade, which lacked the textured finish, decorative hardware and myriad compartments of a comparable bag sold at retail. Designer outlets do maintain a certain level of quality, so as not to tarnish their brands, but for a true bargain, ask a clerk to point you toward liquidation stock from previous seasons.
In relatively rare cases, a brand may offer merchandise in its factory stores that is higher quality than the products it sells through other channels. For example, luggage manufacturer Samsonite showcases certain high-end pieces exclusively at its company store locations. A salesperson showed us one Samsonite bag with a handle attached with three bolts, where a bag sold at a department store may have only one. As a result, you may not find the hefty discounts you’d expect from an outlet, especially compared with sale prices at retail. But you could find a better product for a similar price.
Generally, consumers can safely assume that buying a cookware set will cost less than purchasing the pieces individually. However, the Calphalon outlet offers massive discounts on open-stock merchandise, so you can cherry-pick only the pans you need and still come out ahead. We found a 3-quart sauté pan and matching lid from the brand’s contemporary line for $24, compared with a whopping $160 at Williams-Sonoma. Open-stock pans come without packaging, but Calphalon covers them under the same lifetime warranty as full-price items sold at retail.
At the Le Creuset factory store, we saw savings of close to $50 on the 7 1/4-quart Dutch ovens that appear on so many wedding registries and can fetch several hundred dollars at retail. These were so-called second-quality products, with imperfections such as uneven glaze or minor blemishes. However, we probably wouldn’t have spotted the flaws in a selection of cookware if a clerk hadn’t pointed them out. Discontinued colors also carry steep discounts — and not all the hues are wildly bright or offbeat.
While brands such as Gymboree and Gap Kids sell made-for-outlet merchandise, Carter’s takes the uncommon approach of operating retail stores at outlet malls. These company-owned stores feature a wider selection of styles and sizes than the brand typically offers through its retail partners. The quality also impresses, although the discount prices may not. Luckily, the brand offers near-constant sales, and customers on the mailing list frequently receive coupons. In our experience, outlet coupons and other promotions account for much of the savings at outlet malls. If you’re a frequent outlet shopper, consider joining the nearest mall’s VIP club or becoming a fan on Facebook.
Nike Factory Stores may not feature the very latest styles and cushioning technology, but we saw savings of 20% to 25% on shoes from previous seasons. The Nike outlet carried men’s Air Max 2011 shoes for $129.99, for example, when the 2012 version was going for $170 at Foot Locker. Nike Zoom Vomero+ 6 running shoes for men and women cost $99.99, compared with $130. Apparel, on the other hand, was a mixed bag. While the outlet charged half as much as Macy’s for a similar men’s moisture-wicking long-sleeve shirt, a women’s running tank top actually cost $2 more.
Shoppers at the Columbia outlet can count on finding consistently cheaper prices than the brand charges at retail, as well as similar styles and quality. The company discounts its wares to varying degrees. We’ve seen everything from men’s convertible pants for almost 20% off to women’s hiking shoes for 70% off on clearance. The shoes cost just $30, while newer colors of the same style commanded $100 online