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How to save the most money at outlet stores

Posted at 6:00 AM, Sep 11, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-11 09:00:23-04

Outlet stores are entering a golden age. Frugal shoppers seeking a deal have long favored them, but over the past few years they have become increasingly mainstream. They are so popular these days that several retailers have responded by launching their own outlet stores. Macy’s plans to open its pilot outlet store “Macy’s Backstage” in several locations around the New York City area over the next few months, while Kohl’s recently opened its own pilot outlet store called “Off-Aisle by Kohl’s” in New Jersey. Even Whole Foods is getting in on the action, experimenting with a discount-priced outlet-style market called “365 by Whole Foods Market”.

All of these new additions to the outlet store scene are on top of mainstays like Nordstrom Rack, which first launched way back in 1973, and Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th, which arrived on the outlet scene in 1992. Toss in other brand outlet stores that continue to thrive like L.L. Bean and Coach and you’ve got yourself a bona fide outlet bonanza.

Despite the immense interest in outlet stores, there remains a surprising lack of knowledge among the general public about how to most effectively save at outlet stores. There is a common misconception that you are guaranteed a great deal by shopping at outlet stores, but that is not always necessarily the case. In fact, if you have no idea what you’re doing, then the benefits provided by shopping at outlet stores are significantly diminished. The following five tips are designed to help you make the most of your outlet store trips, so that you truly can experience the savings you expect.

SHOP DURING PEAK SALES SEASONS

Outlet stores are famous for offering legendary discounts on the big sales days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. What makes outlet stores’ sales so good on these days is that the deals generally last all day and are often store-wide. Unlike with many traditional stores, the discounts aren’t usually limited to just a few doorbuster deals for products that sell out immediately. While Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the high watermark for outlet store sales, you can find good ones during almost any three-day holiday weekend, including President’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day.

CHECK THE SECONDS AND CLEARANCE SECTIONS

Items that have minor defects (such as a slight tear or faded color) are regularly sold at outlet stores. More often than not, the imperfections of these products (called “seconds” at clothing stores) make no difference in terms of their performance, but result in significantly reduced prices. If you carefully examine the merchandise before buying it to ensure that whatever issue it has won’t impair its use, then you can often save quite a bit. For those uncertain how to check on the quality of clothes, US News & World Report has a few suggestions.

Clearance sections also offer a great opportunity to find bargains. Outlet stores typically sell older models, which is why they are cheaper, but even outlet stores run out of shelf space eventually. The longer a product goes without selling, the more anxious the outlet store is to get rid of it. That anxiety leads to huge discounts. Clearance sections comprising this old and heavily discounted merchanside are typically kept off to the side or back of the store, but occasionally they are mixed in, so just ask a store attendant if you aren’t sure.

USE COUPONS AND PROMO CODES

There is some confusion about whether you can use coupons or promo codes at outlet stores, but in most cases, especially at the larger stores, you absolutely can. As a matter of fact, the coupons and promo codes for outlet stores are sometimes better than they are for the regular stores themselves. For example, the Adidas outlet often releases promo codes that provide a larger discount than you could get if you were to buy a pair of Adidas at a sporting goods store. Likewise, if you live in an area that has a prominent outlet mall, always make sure to check for coupons in the mail and on social media, particularly during holiday seasons, that are good for any store in the mall.

ALWAYS PRICE CHECK

Real Simple magazine reports outlet stores have earned a reputation for trying to trick customers with shady pricing schemes. They are notorious for coming up with fictitious regular prices and then advertising “huge markdowns” that are essentially meaningless. Thanks to sites like Amazon, you now have a handy way to thwart these unscrupulous attempts to fool you right at your fingertips. Just do a quick search of Amazon (or Google Shopping) on your smartphone to see how much similar products cost and you’ll know immediately how good a deal you are actually getting. Don’t worry about matching the exact specs of the product as the outlet one is likely lower quality anyway, so it should cost less.

STUDY THE RETURN POLICY

Most major retailer stores have rather robust return policies that make it very easy for customers to take back items and either get their money back or receive store credit. That is not always the case with outlet stores. You’ll want to verify whether you can return or exchange a product before you purchase it an outlet, especially since they are older and usually either have a defect of some sort or are made of made of lower quality materials. Also, don’t assume that the parent store will automatically accept the return of an outlet store item. For example, Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th returns must be made at Off 5th locations, not traditional Saks locations.

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