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In reality, outlet malls promise something—high quality for a low price—that is very hard to deliver. The next time you’re tempted to swing through an outlet mall, consider these savvy shopping tips.
Look at apparel tags. Irregular or imperfect merchandise usually carry tags that are sliced, marked on, or otherwise altered to indicate that it’s not fit for retail sale, whereas knockoffs usually carry different tags altogether. At Gap Outlets, the tags are white with blue lettering, the reverse of the retail tags. At Banana Republic Factory Stores, the tags have three small diamonds indicating they’re not retail quality. Get familiar with real retail tags, so you can spot the impostors at outlet stores.
Know what an item is really worth. How can you know whether you’re getting a great deal at the Samsonite outlet if you don’t know the real retail price of a suitcase? Comparison shop for large purchases; don’t rely on the reference price quoted by the store.
Think seasonally. It’s a good bet that any in-season merchandise is from an outlet-only line. Real retail overruns don’t arrive in outlet stores until after the season has passed.
Remember that fewer stores = better quality. If you’re shopping at a store that has posts in every outlet mall in the country, you’re almost guaranteed to be getting outlet-quality merchandise. At an outlet with only a few locations, the merchandise is more likely to be true overruns, discontinued items, and last-season’s line because the company doesn’t have to fill hundreds of stores.
Shop the sales. Outlet stores have sales at the same times that normal retail stores do, and customers can often get even better discounts at these times. But sales at retail stores can offer savings just as valuable as regular outlet prices.