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Ask DSM Readers: How Do You Make the Most of Your Outlet Shopping?

by Tara Kuczykowski on November 11, 2010 · 18 comments

outlet shoppingPhoto by prayitno

Every week I'll pose a question for you to share your experiences and tips. If you have a question that you'd like me to post, I'd love to hear from you!

Recently, Kelsey sent me an email looking for tips for shopping at outlets. We shop at outlets, but I'm always very conscientious of what we buy. I tend to only buy things that I know for a fact are a good value, and I look everything over carefully.

A lot of stores are now manufacturing lines specifically for the outlets that are of lesser quality than what's in stores in addition to sending products that are flawed to the outlets. And sometimes, the deals you find aren't much better than those found in regular stores or online with a coupon.

So how do you make the most of an outlet shopping trip? Do you visit outlet stores regularly? Are the prices really that good, or are there better finds in the clearance sections of regular stores? How do you decide if a deal is worth getting? What are your best tips for finding a good deal?

Join the discussion -- add your two cents to previous Ask DSM Readers questions too!

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jennifer Healthy Life Deals November 11, 2010 at 12:05 pm

I go very October to the Osage beach Outlet !! Here is what I do:
- Go to the Outlet malls websitse. here is the link for premium outlet mall : https://www.premiumoutlets.com/vip/index.asp
- Register and you will have access to printable coupons.
- Check out the list of stores and do a search for coupons for that specific store. Some stores like Childrens place, Aeropostale, and Gap allow you to use their regular store coupons at their outlet stores
- Check out prices online for those stores to get an idea of what things cost.
- Set a budget of what you plan to spend and stick to it.
- I go on restaurant.com for coupons to close restaurants so I save on lunch and dinner too.
- Try to plan your trip in spring or fall when they are changing stock and have the best sales.
- I head to the clearance section first

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2 Bridget November 11, 2010 at 12:18 pm

Some outlet malls have coupon books and printable coupons... use them! Some of the stores have email options that will email you about upcoming sales and also send you coupons... I check for current promotions prior to planning a trip to see if it's a good time to go. The malls around here are Chelsea Premium outlets and lots of information can be found at their website... premiumoutlets.com .... sometimes i get GREAT deals, sometimes not, but you take that chance in a regular store too.... good luck

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3 Sarah K. November 11, 2010 at 12:20 pm

I enjoy shopping outlets, and am actually going this weekend. If I'm looking for something specific, I research before hand (good models, prices, etc). Otherwise I just browse.... if I'm shopping for me (or my husband) I have price points I'm looking for and won't buy unless the sale price is below that. I will occasionally "splurge" on something I really like (I got a GREAT dress at BR earlier this year for a bit more than I might have liked to pay.) Use coupons when they're available (some outlet centers offer them from their website, so google them and look. tanger is offering 20% right now, plus a free cpn booklet voucher for "liking" them on FB-- this you have to bring to the onsite office, and there's the 30% Gap/BR/ON sale this weekend). Sign up for free rewards programs when they exist (Bass & co, Jockey). And perhaps most importantly... bring snacks and something to drink! (o; It can be a long day, and those vending machines are EXPENSIVE!

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4 Ashlee November 11, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Many outlets have coupon books at Guest Services, ask how you can get one. I know Prime Outlets in Ohio give you the book if you have a AAA card. Some stores are really no better than their mall counterparts. Others really are outlets. My personal favorite is the Gap outlet when they have the 30% off coupons (like this weekend). Their outlet prices are far more reasonable than the regular store. Also outlets can be great places to get clearance stuff. I have been told regular stores send after season stuff to the outlets. I got a ton of Gymboree sweaters and winter stuff last May for just a few dollars a piece.
Also OshKosh/Carters have coupons regularly where you get 20% off any purchase over $40, combine that with clearance or sales and you can get a lot.

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5 Lindsay November 11, 2010 at 1:18 pm

I have gotten really good deals at outlets but some outlets just arent worth it. I know for a fact that Gap sends their merchandise that doesn't sell to the outlet and marks it up significantly. Coach outlets on the other hand are a really good deal. You can sign up for emails for both Kate Spade and Coach outlets and get coupons at least once a month! Usually for an extra 20% off!

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6 Nilufer November 11, 2010 at 3:37 pm

I buy my Corell dishes from the Corningware outlets. I get coupons email regularly so use those. I am able to buy plate in bulk rather than buying boxed set that come with items I don't really need.

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7 eileen November 11, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Sometimes, you just stumble on a good deal. This past weekend, Coach outlet had take an additional 50% of already reduced styles AND an additional 20% off coupon. I could have gotten a new coach purse for less than $100!

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8 Dizzy Mommy November 11, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Most of the outlet malls around me (3 of them) do not actually have great deals. You can only get the coupon books or specials if you have traveled more then 50 miles and/or book one of their partner hotels for the night. However I do hit up Fredericks of Hollywood (one of my vices I will admit), we go often on holiday weekends and get 50% off clarence, I find some great deals with that. I also hit up the Childrens Place, the store is gigantic. I watched and listen for their $2.99, $1.99, and .99 sales. A couple years ago I got $1000 worth of kids clothing for my kids for like $100 is was great. I get pants and hoodies for great prices. I also like Victorias Secret, Ive gone on the right days and get my daughter PINK Jeans and Hoodies for $5. Lounge wear is great from there also. In my experience a lot of their stuff is discontinued lines. The one store I never shop at for Outlets is Gymboree, Ive found that store is no better priced.

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9 Lacey Clauson November 11, 2010 at 4:34 pm

Not an outlet shopper myself. For the hassle I have not found two many deals. In general before I go to any store I head to retailmenot.com and find a coupon. What I am a big fan of is ebay. I sell what I don't need anymore and get something I do need. Before I buy anything major I check ebay. Currently looking for the perfect juicer. So many people are having lifestyle changes/moving that it is nice to help them out and get something nice for so little. It is a win win.

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10 Robin November 11, 2010 at 5:15 pm

I go to the outlet twice per year. The first is just after Christmas and the second is just after New Year's. That is the only time it isn't crowded but the merchandise is 70% off at my favorite store- Banana Republic.

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11 Summer Highfill November 11, 2010 at 6:37 pm

I am lucky enough to have a Hanna Andersson outlet about 2 hours away. They are a smaller store and if you have outlets like these that are stand alone and not in an outlet mall....it might be worth a quick phone call (explain you shop there every time you are in town, but live hours away) to find out if they even have a few of the things you are looking for in stock. I have had great luck this way nabbing some deals or even having them hold me a few hot items like the day dress/leggings so I can zip up and buy them. They also offer usually some really good mark down racks....I inquire about those too!

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12 Melissa November 11, 2010 at 9:26 pm

Outlets are a waste of time to me anymore with the great prices you can find at the regular stores. I stack coupons with sales at GAP, Old Navy, Justice on a regular basis.

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13 me in millions November 12, 2010 at 10:24 am

I wrote about this awhile back (http://meinmillions.blogspot.com/2009/09/outlet-shopping-really-good-deal.html) and include some tips. However, I've generally found most outlet items (and I'm talking more about clothes) to be of inferior quality and not worth it. Most of the time you're not getting the same merchandise that you would get at the actual store and you're tricked into buying things that you might not ordinarily because it's a "deal." If you wouldn't buy it at full price, it's not a deal!

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14 Crissy S. November 12, 2010 at 8:41 pm

I have a wonderful outlet mall near me so I have become well acquainted with how to shop it.

Shop the traditional mall first so you can be aware of what is available and at what cost, especially in your favorite brands. For example, I often see the exact same items at the Jones New York Outlet as at the Macy's store, but it is cheaper at Macy's because it has made it to clearance and I can use a coupon or get an additional percentage off.

Familiarize yourself with the layout of the mall. Parking in a good location can mean the ability to drop your bags off in the middle of your visit rather than waiting until the end. Just take time to hide your packages carefully so you aren't attractive to thieves.

Don't forget to pack snacks to keep you energized and don't be afraid to skip stores.

Definitely take advantage of coupons that can be available online (directly on websites or by signing up for emails) or from guest services. However, many require you to spend a large amount ($75 or more) so plan to go to the mall with friends of similar taste so you can share the discount if necessary. If you leave your coupon at home or in the car, don't be afraid to ask if the cashier has a spare.

As with all stores, if you go frequently to the same stores, take advantage of shopper programs. Bass/Van Heusen/Izod are especially famous for theirs.

Don't forget to ask what the return/exchange policy is. Some outlets do not accept any returns, some only with a receipt, and some within 30 days.

As with any shopping trip, go with a list in mind of what you need. Even the best shopper can accidentally end up with 4 pairs of khaki pants and no other colors. DOH! Also don't forget to factor in the cost of tailoring, dry cleaning, or any other future costs. It may not be such a deal if it costs $30 to tailor to fit.

Even at outlets, don't be afraid to ask if there are more in the back. More than once, my size has been missing on the store floor but a nice employee has found it in the stockroom. I also ask when I am buying an expensive purse or similar accessory item so I can get one which has been fingered by many customers. I want all of the newness I can get so my purchases last longer.

When in doubt, walk away. If you find yourself still thinking about it at the end of the day and willing to walk back to the opposite end of the mall on tired feet just to get it, you know you really want it!

Finally, most importantly of all, a great deal isn't going to be a great deal if it is going to just sit on the shelf. Walk away if it is too big, too small, or just too ugly!

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15 Crissy S. November 12, 2010 at 8:49 pm

I forgot to add one thing, just as with retail stores, sometimes it can be trial and error with the quality. Some brands shrink quickly even with cold water and hang dry. Others can be washed, worn several times, and still receive compliments. You can rely on the opinions of those you trust or else it will just be trial and error. Don't assume that it is good quality because it was first sold in a retail store or poor quality just because it was made especially for the outlet.

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