Bargains are the best! Does anyone ever really pay full price for anything anymore?
In America and elsewhere, outlet malls and discount stores are the new marketing meccas. They are now popping up everywhere. From Alabama to Alaska, Canada to California, Maryland to Minnesota, and Texas to Tennessee, clearance malls dot the map. Worldwide, shoppers flock to discount marts on every continent.
In past eras, customers haggled prices in the street. Now, they simply browse for the best bargains.
Nearly every major manufacturer of consumer items has a website and a string of outlet stores. (Many even offer outlets on their websites!)
Big-box stores (such as Value City, TJ Maxx, Big-Lots, Marshall’s, and more) offer plenty of discounted merchandise as well.
Are outlet stores really a good deal? How can you make the most of your trip to the outlet mall or the bargain store?
Know your brands.
If you have favorite fashion designers or manufacturers, you can find excellent values by shopping at their own factory outlets. When we visit an outlet mall, we pick three or four stores that we like, instead of tempting ourselves by browsing through everything.
Have a working knowledge of current prices for fashion and other items.
The oldest trick in retailing is to mark an item up, so that marketers can put a red slash through the inflated price and call it a markdown. Just because the price-tag says a shirt retailed at $50 doesn’t make $24.99 a super price for it. Perhaps you recently saw the same shirt in a department store for $22.50. It may never have sold for $50 at all.)
Be aware of current styles.
Items may end up in outlet stores because they did not sell during their current seasons in department stores or mall shops. Often, outdated items are unloaded cheaply in outlet stores to unwitting customers. (Remember shrug sweaters? How about leg-warmers?)
Think ahead to other seasons.
Outlet stores often carry off-season merchandise at deep discounts. You might spot a super winter coat or summer swimsuit for nearly nothing. If it’s a classic style in quality fabric, why not snatch it up and store it for the right season?
Be aware that outlet items may differ greatly from retail items.
Some fashion designers produce separate lines of merchandise for regular stores and outlets. Many brand-name retailers, such as Gap, actually print different clothing tags for outlet items.
Check quality carefully.
Substitutions often occur at outlets. For example, a brand-name shoe may have been produced in an inferior fabric for sale at the discount outlet. Just because it closely resembles a high-priced style doesn’t make it worth even half the price. Look inside the shoe. Is it leather or man-made?
Look for imperfections.
Usually irregular goods have red stampings on the product tags (sewn inside the clothing), as well as on the pricetags. Some stores simply snip labels on imperfect items.
If you purchase such an item, be sure to examine it carefully to determine the nature of the flaw. Do you really want to wear a pair of blue jeans with a fabric snag running down one leg? Even if the jeans are only $10, they are worthless, if you won’t wear them.
At a baby shower, I once received a darling infant snowsuit. Unfortunately, one sleeve was at least two inches longer than the other! Clearly, someone picked this up at the outlet store.
Avoid purchasing items just because they are priced to sell.
If you really won’t wear it, it is no bargain. Do a quick calculation of your estimated cost-per-wearing of that jacket. It may be priced cheaply because it bears fuschia and orange horizontal stripes. If you will only wear it once, it is no great deal, even at $7.50. (Maybe there is a very good reason it is priced so low. No one else wanted it!)
Read return policies.
Before you buy, ask about rules for returns and exchanges. If you are buying gifts, are gift receipts available? What is the time limit on returns?
Will your recipients have the opportunity for refunds, if needed, or will they only receive in-store credit? Does the store offer enough variety to satisfy them, if they receive a merchandise credit for a potential return?
Find your way in mass-market discount stores.
Shoppers must be savvy in general discount (multi-brand) stores. Some offer large-lot closeouts, which may or may not be quality items. Overstocks may be underpriced, while imitations and irregular items may be overpriced, even at low prices.
Watch brand-names carefully.
This is not a snob statement. Bargain vendors often position fake brand names that closely resemble the ones you recognize. The logos may even look similar. For example, Navy Blue is not the same as Old Navy. Turberts is not Talbots. And Corbin Klyne is not Calvin Klein. The quality difference may be vast.
Look for misspellings or altered spellings of major label names. This is a certain clue that you may be looking at cheap knockoffs.
These stores tend to attract large crowds of bargain-hunters, and you will need to watch your wallet (and your children) carefully in such spots. Most outlet and bargain stores are located on major thoroughfares or near highway ramps. Busloads of tourists frequent such spots. Keep children close. (Even a quick trip to the restroom should not be made alone by a youngster!)
Many of these stores are only a small step up from the local flea market. However, if you can weed through the cheap junk, you may find something valuable at a value price!