10 tips for getting the best deals at outlet stores

The outlets have lots of great deals that can make the trip worthwhile, but some savings aren’t quite what they seem.

Here are 10 things to keep in mind before shopping at a mall.

1. Take a closer look at the output products

Items of sale are not reserved for items that did not sell at the retail store. Some carry secondary or B-grade products, and many retailers stock items made just for their outlets, sometimes with noticeable differences in quality from what you’ll find at the mall.

It’s possible that the release version of an item is made cheaply and won’t last as long as what you would buy from the regular store, so consider quality as well as price. On the other hand, some differences might be insignificant and the savings might outweigh them.

2. Compare prices beforehand

Retailers know you’re looking for savings at outlet stores, and many of them try to make those discounts seem as big as possible. You may see signs in the outlet store suggesting prices are 65% off, but those percentages only apply to the kinds of things that haven’t sold despite repeated markdowns.

If you want to know what you’re actually saving, check the retailer’s website and compare prices. You might be surprised to find that the point-of-sale discounts aren’t as big as they claim.

3. Join online outlet clubs

Simon, a major retail real estate group, has “Premium Outlets” in the United States and Puerto Rico. With Free Premium Outlets’ VIP Buyers Clubyou will receive online and printable coupons and special event notifications.

Tangier, another large outlet manager in the US, charges a one-time fee of $10 to join TangerClubbut you receive coupons and earn gift cards and other rewards at different “spending levels”.

4. Get the best off-season deals

Buy your winter clothes in the summer and summer items in the winter to further lower the outlet prices.

5. Time your shopping spree

Outlets can get crowded, so you’ll do better to avoid both traffic jams and overcrowded shelves by shopping during off-peak hours.

Experts suggest stopping on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays. Buy early in the day. If you are not a morning person, avoid the early afternoon and wait until dinner time.

6. Check retail stores before outlets

Try shopping during sales or with coupons at the local mall, where you may find the prices are comparable but the quality is better. Don’t forget to look for clearance items in-store and online.

7. Check with outlet centers for coupons and flyers

Coupons and other discounts can make in-store shopping a better deal. Call or go online to see if any coupons or flyers offer additional savings. Senior and military discounts may also be available.

8. Watch the return policy

Unless you don’t mind returning to the mall, check the return policy before stocking up on discounted products. Many regular stores do not accept returns from outlets.

9. Ask the staff at the point of sale

If you have any questions about the quality of outlet items, ask the store staff. Some employees can tell you if the items are made specifically for the outlet. Staff can also provide other valuable information.

10. Walk away if necessary

Don’t see anything you like? Don’t be afraid to leave empty-handed.

Shopping malls are usually located in remote locations. Not only is this real estate less expensive, but buyers can also consider outlet shopping as an investment in a full-day trip. With the expense of gas, time, and energy, buyers might feel like they have to justify those sunk costs and end up spending more than they otherwise would.

Ignore the urge to spend more just to make the trip worthwhile. Spending more money on unnecessary things won’t make you feel better, no matter how much you spend on gas.

Factory outlets are just one way to find bargains, of course. If treasure hunting is your passion, be sure to check out other shopping reports, including:

What is your approach to points of sale? Share with us in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Ari Cetron contributed to this report.

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