The stars all seemed aligned when I recently pulled the minivan into the Vacaville Outlets as we had a couple extra hours to do a little shopping before we finished our drive to visit friends in the San Francisco bay area. The stars quickly seemed to be exploding as the parking lot was TOTALLY packed. I almost said “screw this” as I drove the minivan around and around looking for an empty stall with 3 kids in the back who were getting “anxious” to get out.
In case you were wondering, I looked up the word “anxious” in the smart-ass dictionary and it means, “driving Mom and Dad crazy and making them want to saddle up to the bar at Chili’s.” But anyways, here are the ways to maximize your savings when shopping at an outlet or factory location.
Many “Outlet” Stores Ain’t Outlets!
The biggest takeaway from my family trip to the outlets was that you have to be really careful about the pricing.
Just because a store looks like an outlet, has an outlet bathroom, smells like an outlet, and has outlet employees, doesn’t mean the prices are any better than their regular retail location.
Some have the exact same merchandise, at what appears to be the exact same price, which is really odd to me. What the heck is the point? Shoppers are eventually going to catch on (if they haven’t already).
The actual percent of merchandise found in most outlet locations, that are either irregulars or factory seconds, is around 1% to 5%. Everything else is either the same stuff found in regular retail locations, or cheap stuff made specifically for the outlet or factory store.
If you’re going to have an outlet location, at the very least take last season’s merchandise, poke some holes in it, mark the tag with a Sharpie, and lower the price by 20%.
Here are the 3 main types of “Outlet” stores:
- Factory Stores – These are stores located within an Outlet Mall that sell items made specifically for the Factory Store. Clothing and apparel is often of lesser quality. Popular factory stores include Coach, Nike, Brooks Brothers, J.Crew, Calvin Klein, GAP, Banana Republic, Burlington Coat, and Tommy Hilfiger.
- Actual Outlet Stores – These stores sell items that were originally in the conventional retail location. Products are usually overstocks, or have small dents, scratches, or blemishes on them. These outlet stores often have the best deals on first quality products. Popular examples of “real” outlet stores include REI, Coldwater Creek, and Lands’ End.
- Conventional Retail – These are simply regular retail stores dressed up to appear like an outlet location. The deals found at these locations often mirror exactly what you’ll find in your local shopping mall. Examples include Old Navy, Merrell, Famous Footwear, Sunglass Hut, and American Eagle Outfitters.
By knowing the differences between these 3 types of stores, you can shop knowing exactly what potential deals you’ll find within.
“Holiday” Sales Rock
Once we finally found a spot to park, we were very impressed with the Labor Day sales many outlets had going on.
In particular, American Eagle Outfitters had a 50% off the entire store sale going on, even on clearance items. My wife bought some blouses that were regularly $45 for like $12 since they were on the clearance rack and she got an additional 50% off.
I had no idea that AEO even had outlet stores since I always see their overstocks at our local TJ Maxx. But sure enough they do, and the 50% off dealio was pretty awesome.
I asked the gal when we were checking out if they do this often and she said “No, only twice a year can you buy this trendy, Cambodian made, crappy clothing for 50% off our ridiculously expensive regular prices.”
Kidding, but that would have been the BEST ANSWER EVER. I think I would have leaped the counter and given her a huge bear hug. At which point I probably would have been tased by Paul Blart.
Other holiday weekend to check out include Memorial Day, 4th of July, Thanksgiving, and the 5 days between Christmas and New Year’s.
Impulse Purchases? Be Careful
Gotta say that if you have a weakness for good deals, most of which you clearly don’t need, you might want to stay away from outlets like I stay away from the center aisles at Costco. The deals tend to call out my name and pull me in with their force field.
This was especially true when I was standing in the long checkout line at the Nike Outlet where they have all these cool socks, clearance shoes, and other awesome sports thingies.
It was all I could do to keep my blinders on and stay focused on why I came into the store which was to buy my son some new duds for school.
Also, since most outlets (including the one we went to) are located in the middle of nowhere with cow pastures on both sides, I’m not sure we would make a special trip as the cost to get there eats into any savings.
But if you happen to be passing by an outlet it’s definitely worth checking out.
Ask the Reader: What is your take on outlet shopping? Worth it? Yay or nay?
By Kyle James
Photo Credit to Mike Mozart.