Are Outlet Malls Worth Your Time?

By Janey Osterlind on 12 November 2010 (Updated 4 November 2011) 5 comments
Photo: Andrea_44

One of the bonuses of traveling for work is discovering new things in the towns where I travel, like a great restaurant, boutique, or indie movie theater. I came across one such find last month that gave me particular joy — an outlet mall. Few things make me as excited as knowing I bought three new outfits for the price of two — and at my favorite store, no less! But are outlet malls really such good deals? A recent article on MSN.com sheds some light on why outlet malls might not be as attractive as I first thought. (See also: 12 Ways to Save Cash on New Clothes)

They’re Inconvenient

Ever notice that outlet malls are on your way to a big city, but not in them? It’s no coincidence that outlets are so inconveniently located: Land is less expensive when it is located further from a metropolitan area, making it more lucrative for developers to construct the malls and allowing owners to charge less rent from the stores. Another reason for the inaccessible locales is psychological: If people have to travel further, they want to make the trip worth their while, which often translates into more money spent per trip.

The Items Are Lower Quality

Sometimes, your favorite retailer ships damaged or overstocked goods to its outlet location. Sometimes, it just produces cheaper goods and sews on the same label. Difference in quality could translate into a difference in material, hems and buttonholes, and cut of the fabric. One way to determine whether your favorite retailer manufactures items solely for its outlet is to check the label. If there is an “F” for factory outlet, it was made specifically for the discount store.

The Savings Really Are Too Good to Be True

Sure, it feels wonderful to save 60% on an item, but what was the original price of that item? The MSN article mentions that both "the Federal Trade Commission and the Council of Better Business Bureaus have detailed pricing guidelines and many states have pricing laws," but that inflated prices are not uncommon. As it turns out, my joy at seeing a 60% off sticker could be misguided.

Despite these negatives, outlet malls can still yield some good finds. A recent article from SmartMoney magazine gives some good tips to make the most of the discount retail centers. Many retailers, including J. Crew, J.C. Penney, and Crate & Barrel, are making the move to an online outlet presence, which makes it easier to compare prices and take advantage of deals when you might not be able to make a trip to a brick-and-mortar store. You should also take advantage of coupons at outlets. Yes, they do exist: Outlet mall developer Chelsea Premium Outlets created a VIP Club that offers members coupons and sales alerts. I’m a member of the club and regularly save 15% on outlet prices.

While I can’t say I’ve definitively answered the question of whether outlet malls are worth it, I do think after reading these articles that I’m a little more aware of the costs of outlets and the ways to save beyond the already low prices. I hope it helps you score some fabulous deals on your own shopping excursions!

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carrythebanner

Something else to consider are warranties — or rather, the lack thereof. You might save big on that discounted jacket, but if you have to replace it in a year instead of sending it to the manufacturer for a free warranty repair, those savings are sunk.

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Guest

About the only things I've ever found at outlet stores that was any good was refurbished items, and that was many years ago. Now it seems like the vast majority of items are basically the manufacturer knocking off their own designs.

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Guest

Check eBay first before you make that long trip....

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Ashley

Actually, most of the shopping I do is outlet stores- I live about 10-15 minutes to two different outlet centers. Going to the mall or "real" stores is about a 40+ minute drive, depending on where I'm going, and I have to deal with traffic, crowds, and more expensive prices.

At many of the outlets I go to, I find the items are usually older/discontinued styles and models rather than the factory "reject" items usually described in outlet stores. Things that are really poorly made items tend to be in a special area marked down even more. Also, while items aren't always cheaper than other "real" stores, there are enough sales and coupons and discounts that do make things cheaper.

A downside is not being able to predict what will be available. If you really need a certain item, it's hit or miss.

Andrea Karim's picture

At the outlet malls in my area, most of the clothing is barely discounted. I've never found anything in any of the stores that offers savings that match, say, what I would find at Nordstrom Rack or even Ross. And I HATE Ross, so that's really saying something.