Here’s a dirty little secret of designer outlet stores—many are selling entirely different goods from what they offer in their regular retail stores. In other words, that designer handbag that you’ve unearthed at the outlets that seems like a great deal isn’t the same thing you’d find at the designer’s full-priced store.
Consumer Reports recently ranked the biggest outlet stores in the country, and along the way had some pretty interesting findings—particularly that outlet malls increasingly mean big business, but shoppers might not be getting the deals that they think they are.
From 2006 through 2012, the amount American shoppers spent at outlet malls grew 41 percent (growth for traditional malls was a much smaller 9 percent), and industry experts expect that shoppers will spend $42 billion in outlet stores this year, up from $24.3 billion in 2012.
The business, though, isn’t growing from brands selling off their overstock at discounts. Because retailers have become quite savvy at forecasting demand following the most recent recession, gone are the days when a brand is left with tons of excess stock that they are forced to offer at major discounts, and because of that, increasingly what you’ll find at outlet stores was made just for the outlets.
So what exactly are these made-for-outlet goods? Consumer Reports found that they are typically items from a brand’s main collection that have been tweaked so they could be offered at a lower price. The magazine analyzed two Coach bags, one from the brand’s retail store, and one from its outlet (see the graphic above) and found that the though the bags were very similar, the outlet bag lacked many of the main line bag’s details like embossed leather and a curved zipper. Still, the magazine found that the bags were both well made overall.
Bottom line here: Outlets are a great place to buy less expensive items from your favorite brands, just go in with eyes wide open to what you are actually buying.