If you are a seasoned shopper, you already know that outlet mall shopping today is much different from warehouse outlet store shopping of yesteryear. Outlet stores, back in the day, were located in a less glamorous part of town and were typically large, mostly unattractive warehouses filled with defective or second-quality merchandise. Everything was sold at a discount. The less expensive the item, the more that was wrong with it.
While those types of warehouse operations still exist, outlet malls have all but replaced them. Outlet malls look like normal retail malls but are not quite as upscale. They have fewer amenities, are typically built with outside access to all of the stores, and rarely offer movies or standalone restaurants.
Outlet malls do offer a more modern look than a warehouse outlet, many stores and even new merchandise. Off-season, seconds or slightly-defective items are still a draw, but in many cases, brand new merchandise is also available. However, it's often of lower quality than similar items found in regular retail stores.
Since everything isn't a bargain, finding a deal in the newer outlet malls requires a little work. Here are seven tips for finding the best deals on outlet mall items.
Know When a Bargain Is a Bargain
Although the sign says 65% off the retail price, it is likely that you would have never paid the retail price anyway. However, you would not know that unless you visit the decked out store in the swanky mall first. Don't have time to go the mall? Smartphone apps like RedLaser or ShopSavvy allow you to compare prices online. The only way to know if it is actually a good deal is to compare prices.
Find out If It Was Made for the Outlet
According to SmartMoney, 82% of all products sold in an outlet store are made to be sold there. This means that the items are new but possibly of lower quality than what you would find in the regular store. That may not be a problem, but keep in mind that if you are buying something that looks new and undamaged, the price is lower for a reason. If top-quality is important, you may want to keep looking.
Head to the Corners
When you walk into an outlet mall store, you will notice great looking displays just like in a traditional retail store. Head to the far corners and there you will likely find the clearance racks. If you are looking for the true bargain basement outlet experience, the corners are probably where you want to start.
Sign up for the Mailing List
Since B-stock or "factory seconds" make up less of the inventory of outlet malls these days, sales are far more common. The only way you are going to know about that sale is to sign up for its mailing list at the mall office or online. While you are at it, join the mall's preferred customer club; it's usually free and includes additional discounts that typically change monthly. Another tip: Set up a separate e-mail address that you only use for mailing lists like this.
Need a winter coat? Buy it in the spring. Need some new beach gear? Buy it in the fall. Need a new snow blower? You want to pick that up in the spring.
Stores know you are looking for a bargain, but they also want to maximize profit. Off-season merchandise will often not be the first thing you see. So, where should you look?
Outlet malls are very busy. During heavy shopping times such as the holidays, there could be a line – just to get into the store. If you are able, shop on the weekdays when others are at work. If you go when everybody else would normally shop, you are going to need an extra dose of patience.
The Bottom Line
Outlet malls have replaced warehouse outlets. The move to a more modern look brings with it new challenges for perceptive shoppers. You cannot assume that everything in an outlet mall store is less expensive than the same item in a regular store. Due diligence is the name of the game. Embrace the new "normal" and play by the rules. You will not find as many scratch and dent items anymore, but stores still offer great bargains.