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Is Outlet Shopping Worth It? 5 Tips For Smart Purchases

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Is Outlet Shopping Worth It? 5 Tips For Smart Purchases

If you've ever found yourself staring at a price tag – or a receipt – wondering if outlet mall shopping is really all it's cracked up to be, you are not alone! Just like the fine print at the bottom of otherwise surprisingly enticing retail discounts, outlet shopping is not always as straightforward as it seems and may take a little extra detective work.

However, that doesn't mean you should shy away from outlet shopping. Become familiar with a few tips and tricks, and you'll be well on your way to bags full of amazing deals.

1. Looking For Current Items At A Lower Price?

The item you saw in the regular retail store might appear in the outlet as well. It just might be a truly amazing deal. However, like most too-good-to-be-true moments, avoid overloading your neurons with excitement and take an honest, logical look at the details:

  • Quality/Fabrication: It looks just like the one at the regular mall store that’s made of 100 percent cashmere, but this one is made of acrylic. Outlets often use less expensive fabrics, so make sure you know what you’re buying.
  • Construction: Those little accidents that result in less than pristine but technically still wearable clothing? Those are called irregulars or seconds. Check for a sticker or tag, or ask a sales associate, if this is the case.
  • Season: Some stores carry last year’s unsold items. Some carry of-the-moment items. Keep this in mind while you shop!

2. Diehard Fan Of A Particular Brand's Aesthetic?

If you’re entirely obsessed with a particular look and could care less whether something is cashmere or wool, glass or crystal, then outlets are certainly worth your while. Wonder why this is possible?

  • Material Adjustments: Visualize a trench coat or a suitcase created to look like its original counterpart, only without the high-end details that make it so pricey (think less expensive buttons, hardware and trim).
  • Factory Brand: No irregulars here. These pieces are created specifically for the outlet on a more cost-effective budget.

3. Do The Math!

Don't let retailers fool you. Your brain sees a sign that reads "60 percent off," and you’re already pulling your credit card out of your wallet. Not so fast!

  • The Regular Store Is Offering: A 100 percent merino wool sweater. It’s on sale for $50 with an extra 30 percent off holiday discount. Final price: $35.
  • Meanwhile, The Outlet Store Is Offering:  A visually identical sweater made of cotton. It’s on sale for $60 dollars with an extra 40 percent off holiday discount. Final price: $36.
  • Moral Of The Story? The regular store offers the better deal by a dollar and better fabrication (the wool is warmer and more expensive than cotton). Crunch the numbers and pay attention to details. What appears to be a deeper discount might not be the best deal!

4. Check The Return Policy.

Outlets often have return policies that you don’t expect – like an all sales final, no returns accepted policy. No harm donel if you buy a shirt missing a button. However, when you purchase a washing machine that makes a screeching sound or fails to turn on – this may pose a big issue.

Check the return policy every time. Paying more at a regular store so you have the insurance of a receipt can save you money – and heartache – in the end.

5. Avoid Accidental Overspending.

A few simple tricks will keep you from experiencing the all too common "outlet mall syndrome" – the misconception that outlet deals are so great, you can’t possibly overspend. 

  • Coupon Books: Only purchase these if you’re a big spender. If you spend more on the book than you get back in discounts, you’re actually out extra money.
  • Register Online: Some outlets offer frequent shopper discounts that you may register for online. Check it out ahead of time.
  • Put Items On Hold: If you’re an impulse shopper, put the items on hold and take a break. Walk away from the goods so you can reflect on whether you truly want to make a purchase and whether the deal is really as good as it seems.
  • Set A Budget Before You Shop: Decide how much you’re willing to spend before you leave your home. This will help you weed out extra items you aren’t sure about and help you avoid major shopping guilt.

Your work as a shopper is never done! There’s always another deal and another shopping day. Though outlet malls can absolutely be worth your time, a little extra effort, research and potential calculator-use make for the best deal ever (with the money left over in your wallet to prove it).

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