Let's Go Outlet Shopping

There's no question that Americans flock to outlet shopping malls like bees to an open soda can. There's the lure of potentially good deals and rows and rows of outlet stores that you would never see in a regular mall. But I've always wondered if outlet malls were worth all the trouble of long drives and crowds. I recently talked to Pamela N. Danziger, who wrote "Shopping: Why We Love It And How Retailers Can Create The Ultimate Customer Experience," about how to outlet shop.

Shop To It: Outlet shopping centers seem so overwhelming. What can you do to prepare?
Danziger: Outlet shopping is not something where you can go with a list like you can in a mall or department store. Outlet shopping is very much what you can find and being ready to take advantage of the opportunities. The best way to approach outlet shopping is being open to the possibilities and the possibility that there are no possibilities.

Shop To It: So you might not get anything?
Danziger: A lot of people are driven to buy things simply because they're on sale and they're cheap. Many of those things end up sitting in the back of people's closets anyway. They bought them because they thought it was a great value but it really isn't a great value because then you don't use them or you don't wear them or they aren't quite right. My advice is, if at all in doubt, you're better off passing up the bargain and paying full price for something you really will wear.

Shop To It: Which kinds of outlets have the best deals?
Danziger: The outlet business has changed. It used to be stuff that had a slight error in the stitching or a minor imperfection. Or things that just didn't sell in the fall so they're on sale in the spring. But today more and more manufacturers are producing products for the outlet stores that have lesser quality fabrics, that have lesser detailing and are not up to standards. You need to be very careful. Maybe getting a Coach bag designed for the outlet is just fine for you. You just have to pick and choose.

Shop To It: How can you tell the difference between merchandise made for the outlet and merchandise that just didn't sell in the original store?
Danziger: If you go into an outlet store and you see sizes 2-16 all in the same style, you know that was created for the outlet store. If you go in and you see one of one size, then either they've come through the outlet or they came out of the store. It's hard to know.

Shop To It: How do you know that you're really getting outlet prices?
Danziger: You have to use your knowledge of what the prices are. Many times you will find better deals in the department stores when they have sales. You can't just put your brain on hold because you're at this mall where there is a lot of excitement and sales.

Shop To It: What are some of your favorite outlets?
Danziger: The best ones are close to the manufacturers. The Vanity Fair outlet in Reading, Pa., is certainly one of the very best. There's nice cotton and home furnishings outlets in North Carolina. If [the outlet mall] has Waterford/Wedgwood, Coach and Polo, those are the ones that attract more upscale brands.

What are your strategies for outlet mall shopping? What have been some of your best finds?

By Tania Anderson |  December 11, 2007; 3:00 AM ET General Interest
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First strategy - go on a weekday night, if you can! Fewer people and the merchandise isn't such a wreck to look through.

Next, I would disagree with the idea that you shouldn't bring a list. Figuring out the things that you need will help to focus your shopping and help you to avoid going home with 50 pairs of mittens that you buy just because they are on sale.

Finally, I have had the most consistent luck at the Crate and Barrel Outlet in Alexandria (and at others around the country). For example, a couple of weeks ago they had beautiful Dining Room tables on sale for $149 (two friends went there and bought tables at that price). That same weekend, I found the Crate and Barrel Taka trunk that I originally had every intention of buying in the store for full price for 30% due to minor wear (I'm still looking for the minor wear).

Posted by: SEF | December 11, 2007 5:00 PM

I have been very successful at the Movado Outlet store. In 2006, I found a two bangle watch (with extra links) adorned with 18 diamonds. The cost of the watch at the outlet was $243. It was a complete steal! I wear this watch when I have a fancy occassion. The retails price of that watch is over $700. I also love the Coach outlet which I bought a $375 tote for $220. But not all outlet stores are created equal.


Posted by: meredith74 | December 11, 2007 7:45 PM

I plan a trip to the Leesburg, VA outlets on a weekday (preferably midweek) every December. There are usually lots of good deals at the lifestyle/furnishing stores (Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, Crate & Barrel). For kids/teens basics (PJs,gloves, hoodies, etc.)you can't beat the Old Navy & Gap Outlet prices. This year I found some adorable leather bangle bacelets at the Coach outlet--big hit with my teen nieces. This is my favorite area outlet mall because it has a bood mix of upscale and mainstream stores.

Posted by: PRG | January 3, 2008 9:39 AM

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