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What is an outlet store? How to get the most out of shopping at one

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    Some people seek out outlet stores and malls when they're looking to save a little money when they shop, others may just enjoy the experience. If you haven't shopped at one yet, it's a store that sells their goods at a lower price than at other locations of the same brand. These are generally single-brand stores. But what is an outlet store and exactly and how does it work? And are you really saving money?

    So, what exactly is an outlet store?

    Not every outlet store operates the same way, but there are a few main ways that brands use these stores. If you're asking yourself, “Are outlet stores cheaper?” Well, you can rest assured that the goods you're looking at in an outlet store likely are discounted. However, the ways stores achieve that discount can differ.

    For instance, some clothing retailers have clothing made specifically for their outlet stores. Manufacturers may make production tweaks like using slightly lower quality buttons, thinner fabrics or fewer stitches to reduce costs. These changes may or may not be noticeable to consumers, but it does make it difficult to compare pricing to see how much you're really saving.

    Other retailers may sell items at their outlet stores that didn't sell very well at their full-price stores. There will likely be no difference in quality, but there's a good chance you'll get a deal on the item. You may see this business model in stores that sell things like appliances, home goods and décor.

    Another tactic outlet stores use to lower costs on merchandise is location. Outlet malls are generally in fairly isolated areas, away from big cities. This lowers real estate costs, which in turn allows them to price their goods lower and still remain profitable.

    Common outlet myths

    There are a few common misconceptions surrounding outlet stores.

    • Myth: Outlets sell defective items. There may be a belief that outlets are able to offer such discounts because the items are defective in some way. This is usually untrue. While it's no guarantee you won't find items in an outlet store with wonky stitching or a malfunctioning zipper, it's also not generally the way outlet stores work.
    • Myth: Outlets are overstock. It's often stated that outlets are just a mishmash of what didn't sell in a flagship store. While it's certainly true that overstock items can end up in an outlet store, many brands manufacture things specifically for their outlets as well.
    • Myth: Outlet products are cheap. While it is true that brands, especially high-end designer brands, often use less expensive materials or production techniques to lower prices, it doesn't mean the quality is poor. It's a way to make out-of-reach brands more accessible to everyday people.

    Tips for shopping at outlet stores

    There are a few tips to keep in mind when you're shopping at an outlet store to make sure you're getting a good deal.

    • Compare prices
    • Look for rewards programs
    • Shop at the right times

    As you rifle through the racks, use your phone to compare prices online to make sure you're actually getting a good deal. You may want to compare the price to both the retailer's website and to other similar products. In addition to confirming that it's a good deal, you may also be able to tell if the product was manufactured specifically for the outlet. There are apps that can help you compare prices across the internet, so get familiar with one of those before hitting the shops.

    Loyalty also pays off when you're shopping at outlets. Outlet stores can often be found within outlet malls, a large collection of outlet stores that operate under the management of a company. Many outlet malls offer rewards programs that will get you exclusive coupons and sales, so you may want to check out your closest outlet mall to see if they offer rewards. You may also want to check outlet malls' websites for printable coupons if they don't have a rewards program.

    To have the most options while shopping, hit up the store earlier in the day. The early afternoon is usually the busiest time, so getting to the shops in the morning means you'll have first dibs on the merchandise. You may also want to consider shopping midweek, if possible. Weekends, especially near the holidays, can get pretty crazy at outlet malls. You'll likely have more to choose from and a less hectic experience on a weekday.

    How to shop outlets online

    If you find that outlet malls are too far away or difficult to get to, you may want to consider shopping at online outlets. Similar to other online shopping experiences, online outlets operate just like their in-person counterparts.

    While not every retailer has an online outlet store, you'll often find that the higher end designer brands do. This provides an accessible way for shoppers who can't make it to outlet stores to take advantage of those lower prices.

    Some online outlets do operate a bit differently than the brick-and-mortar outlet stores. For instance, they may sell refurbished and open-box versions of sought-after products. Refurbished products are used but repaired and cleaned. On the other hand, open-box products are usually just returns from buyers who opened the box. That doesn't necessarily mean there is something wrong with the product, but simply that the shopper changed their mind after seeing it.

    As with in-store shopping, compare prices from online outlets and be sure to check around for additional discount codes to use at checkout.

    What's more

    So, what is an outlet store? It's a place where, when shopped smartly, you can find great deals on items you may not have been able to afford otherwise.

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