Saving Money at the Very Best Outlet Stores

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Just this past week I checked out a new Sketchers outlet store here in my neighborhood and I have to tell you I was pretty impressed. Located in an existing strip mall on a major highway, it was way more than I expected and actually presented itself as a very classy and well-appointed shoe store for the family. It even had their own brand of sportswear and accessories to go with its well-known shoe brand. The store was clean and beautiful, and it didn’t make me feel like I was shopping at a discount store.

Outlet stores have changed over the years, but they are still a great place to find bargains. Here's what to look for when you're shopping the outlets.

The prices appeared to be pretty awesome with discounts of 30-70% off the “regular” retail. Skechers are not cheap shoes (if price is any indicator) and these shoes were mostly priced under $50 with some under $30. A note of caution with any retailer or outlet store: don’t just believe in the fantasyland savings of things like “Reg. $250.00, now just $ 9.99”! That’s pretty much just showbiz in an outlet store. But, even with that in mind, it seemed to me I was shopping at one of the very best outlet stores I had ever seen.

Growing Up in Retail

You could probably say that I grew up in the retail world. I got my very first job working at the corner luncheonette when I was just 12 and worked for Bernie and Bertha (yes, I’m not making that up!), two older retailers from way back. That is where I learned all about customer service and what you actually have to do every day to survive in the business world. That was circa 1961 and a lot has changed since then.

Bernie had an actual cash drawer and you had to know how to count money back and give the correct change, too. That seems to be a vanishing requirement these days, but I digress.

Lessons I Learned

I learned about ordering things for the inventory from food to “tchotchkes” and kid’s stuff like pimple balls (used to pay stickball back in the day) and bubble gum. I even learned and was allowed to make food like steak sandwiches and pizza. I also saw firsthand what happens when you make a mistake running a business (sometimes known as markdowns) and what you have to do to try and recover. It was quite a lot to retain, but I did and perhaps that’s the reason I became a retailer.

So flash forward, oh say a dozen or so years, and there I am working at R.H. Macy’s and my job is “Assistant Buyer”. It’s not pizza anymore, Toto! I’m now buying and selling men’s underwear and accessories.

When I worked at Macy’s, the world of retail was growing rapidly with new shopping centers being built all over and the retail chains expanding left and right. In just my first ten years, the company expanded with almost one new store opening every year. Store closings? Not a one. That’s when I first got wind of the concept of outlet stores.

The Outlet Store Grows into Outlet Malls

What you know and see today is very different than what was back in the beginning of “outlet shopping”. Originally, outlet stores were “factory owned” and sold only their own brand(s) of merchandise.

Retailers had originally used just a portion of an existing store, like the basement level or a wing of the building, where markdowns were housed after being consolidated from other locations. They later realized what they had going and began actually “buying” deals to sell at their outlet to enhance the bargain atmosphere. Eventually, the outlet took on its very own identity and became a mall unto itself featuring many retailers and manufacturers side by side as you see today. It was and is a huge draw and big hit.

At first they were located at least 50 miles or more from any urban core locations. The big draw was the big discounts on factory seconds and irregulars that were not quite up to snuff for regular retail sale. But the big secret is now they are coming to your very own neighborhood outlet store!

Where Can You Get Such Great Deals?

Today, the outlet store has morphed and changed so now there are more and more goods being made directly by manufacturers for their outlet stores. Manufacturers crank out products that look like their high-end stuff, but they do it at a cheaper price point using inferior stitching and sub-par material.

The good news is that the average shopper isn’t likely to know the difference between something bought at a regular retail store and something purchased at an outlet—unless, of course, you’re schooled in the nuts and bolts of fashion production technology! So the lure of outlet stores continues unabated.

You can shop in one of the larger outlet malls, wander through all the stores, and make some decisions on your own…and perhaps you already have done that. A newer trend I am seeing these days is the “individual” outlet store which is springing up like the Skechers store I just shopped last weekend free from the mall environment and much more local. It’s the brand itself on its own and not just available at another retailer or online site. Either way, you will save!

Outlet Stores with the Best Bargains

So here’s my list of five great outlets where you can find some of the best bargains around. Happy shopping!

1. Bon Worth Stores

Mother/daughter styles of misses and petite sportswear. Markdown clearance prices are up to 70% off regular retail. Find a location near you or shop online.

2. Carter’s

Great deals on Carter’s, OshKosh, and Skip and Hop Brand for mom and dad accessories. Kid’s clothes and accessories online or at an outlet with savings always at 50% or more!

3. Jockey

Undies for men, women, and kids in stores or online. Find savings of up to 75% off regular prices.

4. Skechers

Casual offerings include trend-right sneakers, dress shoes, sandals, and boots for men and women. No longer necessary to head to the big department stores anymore to save up to 70% on these great shoes!

5. Bath & Body Works

The very best personal care products the world has to offer. Shop online or find an outlet near you.

Final Thoughts

Outlet stores continue to be a huge draw for shoppers. Their big draw has historically been the big discounts on factory seconds, but that’s no longer entirely true. Keep in mind these simple shopping rules that you should always remember:

Do your homework! When you shop at an outlet store, know the prices of their products before you fall for the 99% off trick! They do exaggerate!

Look for the clearance racks near the back of the outlets, but be sure to vet your finds carefully before purchasing. Typical problems you’ll want to look for include inferior stitching, missing buttons, and decals peeling off, according to Consumer Reports.

Follow the calendar and the clock. Much like anything else, outlets have their own rhythm. The busiest times are typically afternoons on the weekends and anytime around the holidays. If possible, go midweek instead, and during quieter times of the year.

Look for loyalty programs and coupon books. Major outlets offer coupons and more if you join their loyalty programs. Look to sign up in person or online for them.

What are your favorite outlet stores and why do you swear by them? When was the last time you checked to see which ones have moved into your neighborhood?

6 Comments

  1. Louise

    As an FYI, AARP and AAA members have a discount at Tanger Outlets. Military personnel might also receive something, and various savings codes came up when I was looking this up online just now.

    I save the most by not shopping, yet I do keep track of how I might save money. Looking at what the outlet price is and how much you will pay, without considering how much it was “supposed to” cost, is the key to saving.

    1. Thanks very much, Louise, for your comments. I’m a huge fan of AARP and even though I don’t belong to AAA, you are correct when you talk about great discounts from both of those programs. It’s good to spread the word that you can add additional discounts to an already potential savings when you shop at the outlets. And I agree, shop only when it’s necessary, not just because of the bright lights and bells & whistles.

  2. There’s a Skechers outlet near me but I didn’t see the kind of deals you did. Typically the shoes are only $5 to $10 cheaper than retail there. It was disappointing. Anyway I do love Banana Tepublic factory stores though I don’t buy a ton from them. Gap factory stores helped me find some affordable linen pants too. So that was nice.

    1. Perhaps the Skechers store near you didn’t have the same merchandise? Ours is pretty new (about two months old) so maybe there was some special content there. Anyway, my experience with outlets is that there’s a constant change of the mix going on, and perhaps giving them another look at them might help. I agree, Abigail, there are really a lot of other great opportunities for outlets and you’ve named a couple in your comment. Thank you.

  3. Holly

    Thanks for the retail history lesson, I loved learning about that. What happens to the merchandise that is marked down as low as it goes, or is shipped to the outlet stores, and still does not sell?

    I had my first outlet shopping experience last year when I visited Minneapolis.

    1. Believe it or not, Holly, there is something that is actually known as a mark-out. When an item has reached its potential lowest point of sale and it’s become totally out of season and unreturnable to the manufacturer for any credit, it is literally thrown away at zero value and taken as a total loss by the stores. It doesn’t happen often, but it actually happens. Thanks for your comments and your question. I’m glad you’re enjoying the post.

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