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.

  • The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, nearly 300 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization's Board of Directors.
  • The National Council of Higher Education Resources (NCHER) is the nation’s oldest and largest higher education finance trade association. NCHER’s membership includes state, nonprofit, and for-profit higher education service organizations, including lenders, servicers, guaranty agencies, collection agencies, financial literacy providers, and schools, interested and involved in increasing college access and success. It assists its members in shaping policies governing federal and private student loan and state grant programs on behalf of students, parents, borrowers, and families.

  • Since 2007, the Homeownership Preservation Foundation (HPF) has served as a trusted, neutral source of information for more than eight million homeowners. They are partnered with, and endorsed by, numerous major government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of the Treasury.

  • The mission of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD works to strengthen the housing market in order to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; and build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination.

  • The Council on Accreditation (COA) is an international, independent, nonprofit, human service accrediting organization. Their mission is to partner with human service organizations worldwide to improve service delivery outcomes by developing, applying, and promoting accreditation standards.

  • The National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest-serving nonprofit financial counseling organization. The NFCC’s mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior, and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services.