The thrill of chasing down the best deals is just about the closest thing savvy shoppers can get to a modern-day treasure hunt — and nowhere is that more true than at outlet stores! But, to be a smarter outlet shopper both in store and at online outlets, there are a few things you need to know.
First, the idea of outlets (sometimes called “factory stores”) came into being way back in the 1930s when factories needed to find a solution to unload excess product. So they created outlets — originally for employees only, but they then expanded to the common consumer as well. These outlets offered the same exact product and quality found in the regular retail stores, but at a lower price because the styles were either overstocked or out of season.
Generally, this is still how outlet stores work today. Sounds great, right?
Well, there can be some pitfalls, too. Outlets also tend to be the place where retailers dump their flawed or damaged products. Retailers may also stuff their factory store stock with lower-quality goods and engage in phantom pricing (i.e., advertising a fake “original” price to make the product seem like a better bargain than it actually is).
To help you avoid these types of traps, pinpoint the best savings and get the biggest bang for your buck, we’ve rounded up our best tips to help you shop the outlets like a pro.
1. Keep an Eye out for Outlet Exclusives
Brands will sometimes offer products that are specifically made to sell in their outlet store; often, their tag or product description will say “Factory Line,” “Outlet Only” or something similar. While some retailers might use this sort of loophole to get away with selling subpar goods (more on that below), others see it as an opportunity to offer products you won’t find any place else. The fabric might not be the most superior option or maybe it’s designed with one less button than the retail version, for example, but it could be a really great style or color that simply didn’t make it into the retailer’s lineup that season — and it could still be a really great value.
2. Be Wary of Product Quality
On the flip side, some outlets may be stuffed with B-grade goods that are barely recognizable when compared to the regular brand’s quality. When shopping in store, the differences will be quite noticeable: the materials may feel flimsy and look cheaply made, and any imperfections will be on full display. However, it may be tougher to spot these second-rate items when shopping online. If it’s listed, take a careful look at the product details and materials to see if it’s really worth your money.
3. Don’t Trust the “Suggested Retail Value”
Do your own research to find out what the actual retail price of a product is before blindly trusting that the $45 “bargain” sweater you’ve found is actually 50% off. Check the retailer’s site directly — or do a quick Google search for the brand and product name — and that should give you a good idea of the original price. You just might find that it originally sold for $50 and is not actually a bargain at all.
That said, you’ll find plenty of outlet items that are the real deal — like these Express Outlet shorts marked down to $24.95 that we found on a recent outlet trip:
4. Compare Prices
In the aforementioned search for an item’s true retail price, you’ll likely come across lots of similar products across the web. Some of these you might like even more than the outlet item you’re considering, and some of them might even be a better price. If you’re after a name-brand label, these alternatives may not be appealing — but if you’re after the best bang for your buck, it’s basically hitting the jackpot!
5. Make a Beeline for the Clearance Racks
Yes, outlet stores are supposed to be chock-full of lower-priced items compared to the brand’s regular retail store. However — just like non-outlet stores — they often have clearance sections to help you maximize your savings too. (Hint: It’s often sneakily located in the back, left-hand corner since most folks tend to steer right when they enter a store.)
That said, you’ll want to be even more careful about quality when shopping clearance deals as they’re more likely to feature lower-quality materials or manufacturing imperfections. The bravest among us can certainly take their chances on clearance items when shopping online outlets (and trustworthy brands will let you know upfront about any defects), but most of us may want to reserve this tip for in-store shopping only.
6. Look for Promo Codes
When shopping online outlets, it always pays to do a quick search for the retailer at RetailMeNot, so you can see all the current coupon codes for sitewide discounts or free shipping, and any other money-saving promotions that the brand may be offering. Just be sure that you’re searching for the outlet as opposed to the regular retailer since the codes will likely not be the same for both.
If, for example, you want to shop Gap outlet deals, make sure you’re looking at the Gap Factory coupons page or website, specifically. For example, we spotted this Gap outlet-only promo code heading into the Fourth of July weekend:
7. Check for Cash Back Opportunities
Not only can you score the latest discount codes, but you can also earn serious cash back from your online purchases when you shop online outlet stores via RetailMeNot. Cash back offers differ from one retailer to the next, and sometimes you can even find really epic offers — like a whopping 15% cash back — for a limited time. With cash back, you’re basically getting paid to shop, in addition to whatever savings you score by shopping online outlets.
8. Look for Physical Coupon Booklets
If you’re shopping at a brick-and-mortar outlet center, you can usually score some free coupons too. You may be able to download coupons online at the outlet mall’s website, or you can just head to the customer service desk when you arrive. There, you can grab a coupon booklet with special savings for most (if not all) of the stores in the complex. It will probably be offered for a few bucks, but you might get a discounted rate — or it may even be free — for AAA or AARP members, military personnel, college students and other groups. It never hurts to ask!
9. Plan Your Trip
If you’ll be traveling a bit to shop the outlets and you have the luxury of time, try to plan a mid-week trip to avoid competing with the weekend crowds. On a Wednesday or Thursday, you’ll also benefit from freshly delivered inventory (to restock the shelves that the weekend crowd ravaged). Time of day also matters: early morning and early evening tend to be the least chaotic.
That said, if you’re truly willing to brave the madness, you’re likely to find the best outlet deals on major sale weekends around Memorial Day, Labor Day and Black Friday.
10. Be Loyal
If you find yourself shopping at the same outlet mall, it may be beneficial to join any loyalty rewards program they may have. Tanger Outlets, for example, operates dozens of outlet malls across the country, and TangerClub members unlock exclusive access to deals that can be used at any location.
11. Check the Return Policy
If you’re on the fence about an outlet find and think that you might not want to keep it for good, don’t assume that it will be easy to return! Some outlets stick to an “all sales are final” credo, while others will charge you to send your item back (even if the regular retailer typically offers free returns). And, if you plan to return the purchase to a store, keep in mind that you’ll likely have to return it to an outlet location — not the regular retail store.
See Gap Factory’s return policy, for example:
12. Don’t Feel Obligated to Make a Purchase
If you’re not completely and totally in love with the item, you don’t have to buy it! Even if it really is 75% off the original price. Even if it’s top-notch quality. Even if you traveled a long way to shop at the outlets. After all, the point of outlet shopping is to catch a great bargain on something you’ll actually put to use — not spend your hard-earned cash just to say you got something for a really great price. So don’t be afraid to leave empty-handed or “X” out of that internet browser. Period.
The post 12 Pro Outlet Shopping Tips to Score the Best Bargains in Store and Online appeared first on The Real Deal by RetailMeNot.