Outlets, sometimes called factory stores, are a great way to find deals on your favorite brands and an affordable way to introduce luxury brand names into your closet. Usually located on the outskirts of metropolitan areas, outlet malls are much larger than your neighborhood mall, and can be a bit intimidating. But with some patience—and strategy—you will be pleased with what you find. Some of my favorite outlet store finds have been my BR Factory Store cardigan and skirt, my Ann Taylor Factory Store suit and dress, and my Calvin Klein outlet top.
What exactly are the outlets good for? Well, they began as a way to get rid of retail store extras and cheap prices. When retailers realized that there was a huge market for more affordable goods, many began producing items especially for the outlets, often using slightly cheaper material, not lining skirts and pants, and keeping designs simple. Most of what you see at stores today are made just for the outlets, so while the style may seem just like what's in your mall store, there is something slightly different, even if it's just color or fit. For example, BR Factory Store produces a Ryan Fit Flared Trouser, which fits me like a dream. It isn't lined, but can often be found on sale for about $20 at the outlet, so I have a few pairs. There isn't anything like it in the mall store.
Some tips on getting the most out of your outlet shopping experience:
- Do your homework. Just because it's from an outlet, doesn't mean it's going to be cheaper than retail across the board. There is often a "compare to" price on the tag, which compares the price of the outlet garment to a similar item in the retail store. But don't be fooled...usually with a lower price you are giving something up, too. I still wait for outlets to go on sale before I buy.
- Check your email. Many factory stores, including Banana Republic, Gap, J. Crew, Ann Taylor, and LOFT, have mailing lists or Facebook pages just for their factory stores (for Ann Taylor and LOFT, it is an option when you sign up on their regular email updates, not a separate site or sign-up). These emails will alert you to sale events and may often include printable coupons, too.
- Be patient. Sure, a 40% off sale may seem exciting, but many stores have perpetual sales so don't be tempted to jump on everything. It is worth waiting it out for additional discounts or coupons.
- Be stubborn. If you have mental limits on how much you are willing to pay for an item, hold your guns. Or even lower your mental limit a bit for the outlets. You can sometimes find things on sale in the mall for less than the non-extra-sale outlet price, and you'll be getting the mall quality, too.
- Check the return policies. Since outlet items are usually slightly lower in quality than retail stores, you will probably only be allowed to return items to another outlet store.
- Double check the seams (and everything else). Since items produced for the outlet tend to be slightly lower in quality, it is worth a double check of the seams. Don't assume that dress trousers and skirts will always be lined, even if they are at the brand's retail store. If you want certain things, like linings, make sure you check for them before you purchase.
Do you shop the outlets? What tips do you have?