Staying out of the outlets may save you money

Been to an outlet mall lately?  Chance are that you have.  According to Alternet.org, about 55 million Americans shop in at least one of the nation's roughly 300 outlet malls every year.

I was recently one of those 55 million people to visit my "local" outlet mall.  This wasn't the first time I've shopped at the outlets, but this time I went with a different purpose:  to determine how much money outlet shopping can save me.  

My plan was to do a simple cost comparison of identical items sold in outlet stores and regular retail shops. This turned out to be not-so-simple for the following reasons:

  • Many stores found in the outlet mall do not have regular retail storefronts in my local "regular" mall.  Examples of this were the Kenneth Cole Outlet, the LEGO Store, and the Nautica Factory Store.
  • For brands that do have storefronts in both outlet and regular malls, most do not carry the same merchandise at both types of stores.  Some outlets offer past-season or "imperfect" regular merchandise while others offer completely different merchandise made specifically for the outlet store. 
  • Some of the stores in the outlet mall didn't seem much like outlets.  In fact, the outlet mall was anchored by a standard Target Superstore.  Some of the other stores in the outlet mall that appeared to be more or less identical to those outside of the outlet mall include Borders Books & Music Cafe, Hallmark Gold Crown Store, and Bath and Body Works.

Taking all of these things into consideration, I did find a few stores that are both in the outlet and regular malls that offered items at both that were identical or nearly identical.

Here's what I bought:

Sweater and Sunglasses

Girl's Tights

Birthday Card

So how much did I save by shopping at the outlets? 

I was very surprised to learn that the items I purchased cost $5.02 more at the outlets.  In addition, the sales tax is 1.2% higher at the outlet mall than at my regular retail mall.   Factor in the cost of the commute (the outlet mall is 23 miles from my house!) and my time, I think I'll shop at the traditional mall from now on.

How about you?  Do you get great deals at the outlet mall? 

Kim McGrigg is the former Manager of Community and Media Relations for MMI.

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