1. KNOW YOUR "OUTLET" STORE
"Outlet" stores come in three flavors: factory stores, actual outlet stores, and conventional retail stores. Always ask an associate what type of store you are shopping in to quickly figure out the type of deals you might find.
Factory stores are locations that sell merchandise made specifically for the factory store. While the deals to be had can be quite good, be aware that often the merchandise is of lesser quality. I actually had a manager at an Eddie Bauer factory outlet tell me that the stitching is not as good compared to their regular stores and items typically won't last as long. In addition to Eddie Bauer, examples include Gap, Banana Republic, and Gymboree.
Actual Outlet Stores
Actual outlet stores are locations that sell merchandise originally stocked in regular retail stores. Often products are last season's overstocks or have a small blemish on them. You can typically score a much better deal at outlet stores compared to factory stores. It is important to always examine products carefully to ensure quality. Popular examples of real outlet stores include REI, Coldwater Creek, and Lands' End.
Conventional retail locations dressed up as outlet stores are also prevalent. In an attempt to take advantage of popular locations and high foot-traffic, some retailers willingly buy space at outlet malls. The deals at these stores often match the deals found in their conventional retail counterparts. Examples include Old Navy, Merrell, Famous Footwear, Sunglass Hut, and American Eagle Outfitters.
2. FIND HIDDEN CLEARANCE DEALS
Just because you're shopping at an outlet mall doesn't mean stores are without a clearance department. Typically, you'll have to walk past all of the full-priced merchandise to find the clearance section hidden in the rear of the store. If you can't find your size or color, ask an associate for assistance — they often have clearance items in the back that haven't been put out on the sales floor yet or were recently returned.
3. PRACTICE INFORMED COUPONING
When it comes to outlet shopping, not all coupons are created equal. Typically, coupons are created specifically for outlet or factory stores and regular in-store coupons won't be accepted. Check the coupon fine print to avoid the disappointment of a printable coupon being turned away at the register. Always do a Google search for "Store Name OUTLET coupon" before you head out to the store to make sure you find an applicable coupon.
4. SHOP HOLIDAY WEEKENDS
Outlet stores are notorious for offering amazing sales on holiday weekends like Memorial Day, Labor Day, Fourth of July, and Thanksgiving. You'll often find entire outlet stores marked down 40%-50% off original prices. The parking lot can be quite full on holiday weekends, so it's advantageous to get there when the stores open to avoid the crowd.
5. DON'T BUY JUST BECAUSE YOU MADE THE TRIP
All too often, shoppers get caught up in the mystique of outlet malls and feel they need to buy just because they made the drive. Don't fall prey to this mindset. Instead, shop with a list and a budget and stick to it. If the deals simply aren't there, then leave the store knowing that they eventually will be, especially on big holiday weekends.
6. GO SOCIAL AND SAVE
Did you know that the majority of outlet centers have their own Facebook pages? Do a quick search for the Facebook page of the outlet mall you plan visit and get exclusive sale and coupon information.
7. SCOPE THE NIKE OUTLET HASH WALL
The Nike Outlet is a big favorite with many outlet regulars, and many contain a far back wall referred to as the "hash wall," where they typically stock shoes that are marked down for a quick sale. What you see is what you get, so if you are not particular on style or color, it's a great place to score a deal.
8. HAGGLE THE PRICE (WHEN APPROPRIATE)
You can absolutely haggle the price at a traditional outlet location, where items are likely to have a blemish or be reconditioned. Politely point out the imperfection, ask for an extra 15% off, and be prepared to settle for a 10% discount. The bigger the imperfection the better chance of success, especially if you are making a substantial purchase. The same goes for damaged packaging as stores realize they will have a tough time selling items at the advertised price. Give it a try it and you may be pleasantly surprised with the result.
9. SHOP FOR NEXT SEASON
A great way to use save on outlet shopping is to stock up on apparel, shoes, and outerwear for the following year, especially when shopping for growing kids. When you stumble across an amazing deal, simply buy a size or two up and store for next year.
10. BE AWARE OF THE RETURN POLICY
The return policies at outlet shopping locations can often be kind of screwy, so always ask before they slide your credit card. Sometimes items are final sale with no refund available. Sometimes you can only return items to an outlet location, which, depending on how far you drove, can be a real pain. Always be aware of the store's return policy and shop accordingly.