How to buy smart and save money at outlet stores

If you shop smart and do your homework, outlet stores can be a great place to save money. But the allure of shopping malls can also cause you to overspend. Maximize your savings by knowing the different types of outlet stores available and where to find the best deals and coupons inside.

There are different types of “factory outlets”

Factory outlets come in three main varieties. You can quickly determine the quality and value they offer by knowing what type of store you are heading to. Here’s how it breaks down.

  • Actual factory outlets: Genuine POS locations offer the greatest savings potential. They sell products that were originally stocked in regular retail stores. Items may be damaged or have irregularities, or may be seasonal products being phased out and priced accordingly. REI, Lands’ End, JCPenney and Nordstrom Rack all have “real” outlet stores. Also if you are comfortable haggling , real outlets offer a chance to hone your skills. Damaged items may already be marked down, but there is usually some wiggle room in the price. This is especially true in furniture stores where floor space is limited and inventory needs to be moved quickly.
  • Factory outlets: These locations sell merchandise made specifically for them, not items originally stocked elsewhere. Buyer Beware: The stitching and material quality are second rate and will not last as long as in an original showroom. In other words, things are cheaper for a reason. Often the label or price tag has the inscription “Factory”. If you’re not sure if you’re shopping at an outlet, just ask an associate and shop accordingly. A good rule of thumb is that prices should be 30-40% lower than actual retail stores for the value proposition to work. Gap, J.Crew, Eddie Bauer, Under Armour, and Express all have popular outlet stores.
  • Disguised Retail Stores: Many outlets are simply regular retail stores placed in malls to take advantage of heavy foot traffic. Screaming deals are hard to come by as the merchandise and prices are usually the same as in regular stores. If store signage doesn’t indicate the location of a factory or outlet, you’re probably shopping at a regular retail store. Famous Footwear, Sunglass Hut, American Eagle Outfitters and Aeropostale all operate regular retail stores in malls.

Find Outlet coupons on Facebook

Most outlet stores do not accept regularly issued in-store coupons. They usually need to be labeled as “exit” coupons and can often be hard to find. You can google until you’re blue in the face and not find a single usable one. Instead, turn to Facebook. Find the business page of the specific outlet you will be visiting. For example, “Gap Outlet – Shasta Factory Outlet MallTheir page will keep you up to date with outlet specific coupons, many of which will only be valid at that specific location.

Buy the Nike Hash Wall and trade

Nike factory outlets are among the most popular in the country. They offer a mix of styles from last season as well as specially designed items for the outlet. Because of this mix, it can be difficult to determine where the deals are in the store. You’ll save the most money on the back wall, called the “Hash Wall,” at any Nike outlet store. This is where they stock all the latest inventory shoes, as well as Grade B shoes. Grade B means shoes that may have a scuff or may have been returned after being worn once. These shoes are often sold at a slight discount, but you can get a better deal by contacting a seller and reporting the defect. Start by asking for an additional 20% off the asking price, and depending on the imperfection, you have a high chance of getting it, or something close.

Save your purchases for a friendly holiday

Memorial Day and Labor Day weekend are the two best weekends of the year to find outlet deals on clothes and shoes. Indeed, the two weekends correspond to the end of a fashion season. For this reason, outlet stores add items to the bulk clearance section and pass the savings on to you. This is the perfect time to stock up cheaply for the following year. The best way to save is to shop a store-wide clearance sale and combine it with a coupon found on the outlet’s Facebook page.

Know the return policy

To finish, be aware of the return policy in factory outlets. They can vary enormously. Some items are final sale and others require you to return items only to the point of sale. Malls are often in the middle of nowhere, so depending on the distance traveled, returning items to the actual point of sale can be a pain.

Never assume that just because you walk into an outlet, you’re going to get a good deal. This may have been the case in the 80s and 90s, but nowadays research is needed.