Everyone loves a bargain. So, it’s no surprise brand-conscious shoppers flock to outlet malls when they need a dose of retail therapy. But do outlet shopping centers really deliver on the promise of a great deal?
Answer: Ehhhh. Think about the key elements you associate with these discount malls: top brands, quality products, and, of course, a big discounts. Buying in a brand name store means you’ll own something with that brand name, sure. But the quality of merchandise in outlet mall stores isn’t always the same as you find in regular retail. In fact, some (or most) of the items of clothing are made specifically to be sold in outlet mall shops.
Take J. Crew, for example. This prepster haven is renowned for its lux fabrics and vibrant colors. If you can get a citron merino wool sweater for a fraction of the regular price, the drive to your nearest outlet is worth it, right? Maybe not.
Crew is one of many brands that have a separate line of clothes specifically for outlet malls. Clothes for the outlets are often based on previous seasons styles and use cheaper fabrics than their retail counterparts. The result is that you pay less for an article of clothing, but the piece isn’t the same quality you associate with the brand. In essence, companies are making knock-offs of their own brands – it’s J. Crew meets Chinatown.
Another offender of this retail bait-and-switch is Off 5th. These stores are expected to sell leftover Saks merchandise. In reality, only about 10% of the stores’ inventory ever saw the inside of a Saks Fifth Avenue retail store. Most of what Off 5th sells are private-label goods created specifically for the stores by “brand-appropriate” vendors.
Nordstrom Rack, the pricey department store’s popular discount outlet, does the same thing. While Rack does carry some merchandise from Nordstrom stores, it also sells lots of specially purchased items from brands sold at Nordstrom.
In short, consumers are being tacitly deceived as to the quality of the clothing they’re buying. And it doesn’t stop there. Pricing at the outlet malls can also be misleading. Usually, tags have an “MSRP” price purporting to tell shoppers what the item would cost at full price. But remember, these items might not have ever actually been sold at that made-up price. While this pricing strategy makes shoppers feel like they’re getting a bargain, the reality is that the tag “MSRPs” are often bogus.
So, where do we shop from here? Well, it depends on how forgiving you are of the outlet mall ruse. Of course, these are businesses. J. Crew and company are out to turn a profit, after all. And shopping at outlet malls does save you money, just not as much as advertised. You be the judge. If you love the idea of fooling your fashionista friends with a deluxe item they’ll think cost you a fortune, shop on. Your secret’s safe with us.
Cover Image: littleny / Shutterstock, Inc.