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Consumer Reports reveals the truth about outlet stores

Posted Sunday, April 16, 2006

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Goods of High-Quality but Not Always Rock-Bottom Prices; Strategies for Saving Big Bucks

YONKERS, NY – Shoppers who visit stores at outlet malls expecting to scrounge through bins of mediocre merchandise should give their perceptions a makeover according to the May issue of Consumer Reports.

Consumer Reports went undercover at hundreds of outlet stores and the Consumer Reports National Research Center surveyed more than 6,000 readers to find ways to get the most value out of outlet stores. Among the findings:

  • Outlet goods are high-quality - 77 percent of outlet shoppers said the merchandise was of the quality of what they bought at full-price stores.
  • Prices are not always rock-bottom - only one-third of survey respondents said outlet prices were substantially below sale prices at regular stores.
  • Outlets stores often sell different goods than regular stores - but the differences aren’t deal breakers.
  • Consumers can save a bundle by buying irregulars - Most of the defects CR encountered were miniscule.
  • Frequent-shopper clubs and coupons can add savings
WHERE TO SHOP

Consumer Reports rated 33 top outlet stores based on survey results for value, quality, selection and service. The winners for value and quality: Lenox, L.L. Bean, Mikasa, and OshKosh B’gosh. Survey respondents noted that VF Outlets (apparel), Coach (handbags and accessories), Lenox and Pfaltzgraff (dinnerware), and Saks Off 5th (clothing) offered exceptional discounts over the prices charged at regular stores for those brands.

When looking at selection, readers’ picks included Carter’s, Corning, Harry&David, Kitchen Collection, Lenox, Mikasa, and OshKosh B’gosh. Respondents found the sales help at Harry & David to be exceptional as did CR’s nosy reporter. Readers’ picks for best service include Coach, Harry & David, Jockey, L.L. Bean, Land’s End, Lenox, Mikasa, and Pfaltzgraff.

STRATEGIES FOR SHOPPING

Consumer Reports notes that great bargains, high-quality merchandise, wide selection, and a pleasant experience are available to consumers if they shop right. Following are CR’s strategies:

  • Time the visit – Midweek is usually the quietest time to shop outlet malls. Arrive as soon as the stores open. Also consider dinnertime to beat mobs.
  • Catch the biggest sales – Outlets follow the same calendar as regular stores.
  • Use coupons – The major outlet developers have Web sites full of downloadable coupons. There may also be e-mail alerts about sales.
  • Join an outlet mall frequent-shopper program – These can offer access to exclusive sales, promotions, and special events. Members may also be able to pick up coupon books at the mall’s customer-service office. Clubs and coupons are usually free, though some may charge.
  • Explore other discounts – Some centers offer additional discounts to shoppers older than 50 on specified days. Other memberships may offer discounts – i.e. AAA members may qualify for another discount at participating stores.
  • Look first at merchandise that came from regular stores – Shoppers who are unsure of the origin should ask.
  • Consider irregulars – These are among the most deeply discounted goods.
  • Shop for out-of-season items – These are typically found at the back of the store.
  • Understand return policies – Return policies vary but generally outlet merchandise cannot be returned to a full-priced store, and vice-versa.
Additional details involving the outlet store study are available on www.ConsumerReports.org. The May 2006 issue of Consumer Reports will be available on April 11, 2006 wherever magazines are sold.
 
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