This summer, the highly coveted designs of Tom Ford came to the Woodbury Common Premium Outlets in Central Valley, New York. As the first and only outlet store offered by the high-end designer, label-loving fashionistas everywhere counted down the days until the July opening.
The frenzy surrounding this event highlights the attraction shoppers have toward outlet stores. In short, outlets offer designer items at heavily discounted prices, usually in an open-air environment with restaurants and fun diversions for kids. But there's more to outlet stores than meets the eye, and you should consider these do's and don'ts before you hit the highway in pursuit of outlet bargains.
DO Search for Coupons
You may think that outlets don't offer coupons since they're merchandise is marked down to begin with, but that's not true. I shop frequently at GAP and Banana Republic Outlets and always check CouponSherpa for available offers. I've saved an additional 20 percent during my shopping trips there, so it definitely pays to look! You can also sign up for The VIP Lounge at PremiumOutlets.com, which provides information on upcoming sales as well as exclusive coupons to the outlets in your area.
DON'T Assume Quality
Shoppers might assume merchandise featured in the outlet store represent overflow from the branded store. While that's partially true, the other truth is that brand manufactures design some clothing specifically for the outlet stores, using cheaper material and ditching extra features. If you're unsure of an item's origin, ask the sales manager.
DO Know Before You Go
Prices on outlet items may not be as low as you expect since brand names are expensive at the get-go. According to a study from Cheapism.com, some items are offered at the full outlet price during the first week of being on the sales floor, and then quickly discounted to a lower rate at which it will stay until sold. Ultimately, the 30-percent savings you can usually find at outlet stores are a result of constant sales and promotions.
DON'T Forget a Plan
OutletBound.com is an online directory of outlet centers across the country. Search by state to find a nearby outlet and peruse the list of available stores to help plan your day. You can even see what stores are having sales or shopping events, plus score added discounts and VIP vouchers. This website is especially helpful if you're jonesing for an outlet excursion while visiting a different city.
DO Review Return Policies
Though some outlets have traditional return policies that allow customers to return unused merchandise with a receipt, others don't allow any returns. Ultimately, it's always good to know any store's policy before making a purchase. If you choose to shop at an outlet with a no-return policy, be sure you really love the item before you buy it.
DON'T Miss Out
Most outlets are located off the beaten path which contributes to their ability to offer merchandise for less. Since it will likely take you some time getting to and from the location, get the most from your outlet shopping experience by splitting up the crew so everyone can visit the shop they want. You can also "divide and conquer" with like-minded friends, visiting separate stores and calling one another with the scoop on deals.
DO Shop Outlets Online
Again, you may think you need hit the brick-and-mortar store in order to take advantage of outlet shopping, but you can find deals for outlets online. Flash sale sites like Ideeli and Gilt Groupe are essentially online outlet stores, and websites like BlueFly.com offer designer labels for less. Additionally, sites like BestBuy have outlet sections of their website dedicated to marked-down items.
DON'T Fool Yourself
The opening of Tom Ford's new outlet is very exciting for die-hard designer fans, but don't fool yourself into thinking you can afford these garments because they're at an outlet. As I mentioned previously, the discounts available aren't like what you find on flash sites or discount retailers, so be realistic in your purchasing decisions.
Guest poster Andrea Woroch is a consumer and money-saving expert for Kinoli Inc. Her goal is to teach consumers how to live on less without radically changing their lifestyles. Andrea has appeared on The Today Show, ABC News NOW, NBC Nightly News, FOX, MSNBC, CW and been quoted in SmartMoney.com, Kiplinger Personal Finance and many others.