If you’re looking for great deals and have a little extra time to spare, outlet malls can be a really solid option.
With a little shopping know-how, you’ll be ready to save money at outlet malls like a total pro.
Shoot for the off hours
You’ll have a better chance of finding a great deal if you get to the outlet mall when it’s not super packed. People tend to flock to outlet malls on the weekend — some even make day trips out of it if they don’t live in the same city as an outlet mall.
Evenings, after traditional work hours, are also popular, so your best bet is to go shopping at an outlet mall during daytime hours on weekdays.
If you absolutely have to go on a weekend, try to get there right when the stores open — you’ll have a better chance of dodging the crowd.
Hit the Clearance Racks
While items at outlets are already priced lower than retail, you can often find a Clearance area with even deeper discounts. For example, I recently visited a J Crew Outlet where the clearance rack featured items that were marked down, but all items in that area were an additional 70% off. I ended up buying 3 items that would have been $200 at retail for $35. Sizing and selection will be limited.
Don’t overdo it
Let’s face it, outlet malls are exciting. So many stores. So many deals! It’s easy to overdo it, so try heading to the outlet mall with a list of the things you need or set a budget for yourself.
Either way, you’ll be less likely to overspend. If you find something outside of the parameters you’ve set, take a deep breath and ask yourself if it’s something you truly need.
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Surer, outlet malls offer great bargains, but just because it’s at an outlet mall doesn’t mean it’s a guaranteed steal. Sometimes, an item on sale at an outlet mall isn’t as deeply discounted as it might appear.
Use your smartphone and check prices before you buy. Keep in mind that you might not find the exact item you are price checking, as some brands make lower-quality goods just to sell at their outlet stores.
Try to find something comparable from that brand and make your decision from there.
Being realistic about the time commitment can make things go a lot more smoothly.
Plan wisely: Wear comfortable shoes, clothing that’s easy to change into and out of, plus bring a water bottle and a couple of quick snacks so you can keep on going through lunchtime if need be.
Make a day of it
Outlet malls can be a lot to handle. Make sure you give yourself enough time — and bandwidth — to make smart shopping decisions. If you’re rushed, tired or have young kids in tow, you might be tempted to just grab and go, which you might regret later.
Try before you buy
Unless you’re buying for someone else, do not buy apparel or footwear without trying them on.
Even if there’s a long line at the dressing rooms, grin and bear it. After all, imagine what a hassle it will be to trudge all the way back for a return?
Inspect before you buy
When considering an item, look at more than just the price tag. Outlet stores are known for carrying damaged or irregular goods, so double-check items for holes, stains or other imperfections.
If you find something you’re interested in that’s damaged and the label doesn’t already indicate that, ask a salesperson if they can offer an additional discount.
Some goods at outlet stores are made specifically for outlets. They may look similar to items in the traditional store but may be of lower quality, or they may be totally different than what is available.
According to Clarks.com, this can even mean that items are made with subpar materials or different stitching and hardware features. It’s hard to know for sure when this is the case, so if you’re concerned about the quality, inspect carefully and decide from there.
Check for coupons first
Big outlet companies often offer their own coupon programs. Two of the biggest names in the game, Tanger and Premium, both offer coupon books.
If you’re planning a big trip to the outlets, consider signing up for the outlet mall’s email list a few weeks ahead of time. That way, you’ll have ample time to make note of any deals. Once your shopping trip is over, unsubscribe (unless you’re planning a return trip soon).
Also, check with individual stores at the outlet mall, as some have their own sales and rewards programs. But, be sure to read the fine print on any retailer coupons you plan to use.
Often a store will exclude factory and outlet locations. A quick Google search can help you find coupons that will be accepted, as will a search of the local outlet mall’s Facebook page.
Learn the difference between outlet stores, factory stores, and retail stores
Going to an outlet mall can be a lot to take on. To make matters more complicated, outlet malls don’t just have outlet stores. Here’s what you should know:
There are three kinds of stores at most outlet malls:
- True outlet stores–which feature overstock or irregular items from conventional stores.
- Factory stores—which are affiliated with big-name retailers but often carry products specifically made for factory outlets.
- Regular retail stores—which can come with regular prices, with the hope that shoppers will be more willing to spend when they’re already expecting bargains throughout the outlet mall.
If you’re unsure what type of store you’re shopping in, ask an employee.
Shop during the offseason
Outlets, just like many retail store locations, often markdown inventory from the previous season when preparing for the season to come.
This can be a major opportunity to save on clothing, decor, and accessories for next year. Have kids who are still growing? Grab a size or two up for when the weather changes again!
Hit up the big sale weekends
Some stores even mark entire inventories down at once to entice shoppers. But remember what I said above about crowds. You won’t be the only one trying to score a deal, so try arriving right when stores open to avoid the crush.