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7 Secrets You Need to Know Before Shopping at Outlet Stores, According to Experts

You can make the deals go from good to great with these helpful pointers.

Even though shopping at a semi-annual sale can be a great way to save money on key purchases, outlet stores provide access to fantastic deals all year long. In many cases, the discount shops have become a destination in and of themselves for anyone looking for a bargain on everything from apparel to kitchenware. But while the idea of paying a little less for items might be enticing, there are still a few things you might not know about the experience that could make you a better customer. Read on for seven secrets you need to know before shopping at outlet stores, according to experts.

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You should pick your shopping dates carefully.

Unrecognizable businesswoman carrying paper bags while walking at the city street.

When you're shopping outlets, the urge to make your way down to the stores can be constant. After all, with built-in deals, it might seem like there's practically never a wrong time to make your purchases. But experts warn that you can get more out of your experience if you're strategic with your store outings.

"Big shopping trips are usually saved for weekend excursions, but if you have the ability to shop mid-week—typically Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday—then you'll be able to avoid the crowds and have a smoother shopping experience in general," Julie Ramhold, consumer analyst with, tells Best Life.

And it's not just which day of the week that matters. "You'll have even better luck if you also try to shop in the off-season," she explains. "This goes beyond shopping for seasonal items outside of when you need them, like summer clothes in the cooler seasons. Summer, in general, tends to be pretty popular for outlet malls because places like Tanger malls are often located in high-tourist areas that are big destinations during busy vacation times. If you can swing shopping at them when the area as a whole is in the off-season, you may have the smoothest experience overall."

Make sure you're paying the right amount.

checking price tag on shirts

Price tags on items in outlets can cause plenty of double-takes thanks to the unbelievable savings available. But before you swipe your card at the register, make sure you're double-checking what you're being charged. Otherwise, you could end up paying the wrong amount and accidentally miss out on a great deal. On the other hand, you might pass on an item that's actually cheaper than you realize.

"[Prices] may not have been updated, and items could cost less than the sticker says!" consumer expert Andrea Woroch tells Best Life. "Read the fine print of sales signs and ask store associates to confirm prices before checking out."

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You may not get high-quality items.

woman shopping for bedding
Kardasov Films / Shutterstock

For many shoppers, outlet stores can make it feel like you're getting access to your favorite brands at a significant discount. Unfortunately, this is not always be the case, as experts warn that some items could be "made-for-outlets" rather than the high-end goods you're expecting.

"You shouldn't assume that products sold in outlets are ones that didn't sell well at a regular retail store, since in some cases the items were quite literally made for the outlet store and this may mean they're lower quality overall," cautions Ramhold. "A lot of shoppers assume that outlet stores are where they can find last season's leftovers or products that are totally fine but may have minor imperfections. But that's just not the case: If you're shopping at outlet stores, there's a good chance that the items you're looking at were made specifically to be sold there. This doesn't mean they're bad quality, necessarily—they may just not be the best quality."

However, this doesn't mean you should write off outlet store purchases entirely. "I speak from experience that winning items can absolutely be found at outlet stores: We purchased our Corelle dinnerware from an outlet store in 2010. It's a 16-piece set and it was $35, but it's still going strong nearly 13 years later," says Ramhold. "All that to say quality goods can absolutely be found for excellent prices at outlets—you just have to be careful before buying blindly."

You may not be able to return items very easily.

young asian woman returning shirt to store clerk
Shutterstock/Odua Images

Whether you changed your mind after trying on that new shirt at home or just realized you went a little overboard with your purchases, we've all been in a position where a trip to the return counter was necessary. But if you're shopping at outlet stores with the same "bring it back" strategy, you might be out of luck.

"Before loading up your cart, it's important to be familiar with the return policy," says Ramhold. "Not everything sold at outlet malls will be final sale—though some almost certainly will—but just because you can return them doesn't mean you'll be able to return them anywhere. Basically, what that means is you may not be able to return outlet items to a regular retail store."

"If you're shopping outlet stores, know that returns may need to be physically returned to the store, which can be a hassle if you don't live nearby," she adds. "Be sure to factor that in before making a purchase you're unsure about."

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You can save the trip by shopping online.

online shopping
fizkes / Shutterstock

No matter what your personal shopping preferences may be, there's no denying that e-commerce has changed the way we purchase items today. And while it might feel like outlet stores are a distinctly brick-and-mortar experience, experts say that is no longer the case.

"You can access some of the same deals you find in person at outlet centers online these days," says Woroch. "Stores like GAP factory and JCrew Factory have online storefronts! Plus, you can often find online coupon codes to save more on their already reduced merchandise."

"Be sure to check deal aggregator sites like if you want to find coupon codes quickly, which can be as much as 40 to 60 percent off site-wide at some stores," she adds.

Don't set your hopes too high on getting a fantastic bargain.

woman smiling while shopping

For many shoppers, the very concept of an outlet store is linked to huge savings on sought-after items—mainly because these retail destinations are marketed that way. But even though prices on many products are lower, discounts may not be as good as you expect when you go to check the price tags.

"Many consumers expect rock-bottom prices from outlet stores, but the very best savings may be for items that simply haven't sold well," says Ramhold. "Like any other store, outlet stores will want to clear out merchandise that doesn't sell well, and that can mean deep discounts. While that's great if it's an item you're looking for, if you're hoping those massive discounts will apply across the board, you may be out of luck."

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You can ask for coupons right when you walk in.

Pile of Coupons {Target Black Friday}

Most people walk into an outlet store knowing they're in for some seriously discounted products. Because of this, it might seem illogical to assume that you could get an even better deal with a coupon like you might at a regular store. But experts say the true outlet pros know you can save even more money if you do a little extra digging after arriving at the shops.

"Head to the customer service center and ask for a coupon book," suggests Woroch. "There, you can find deals like 20 percent off your first purchase at select outlet stores."

Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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