Outlet Stores: Price vs. Quality

FRESNO, Calif.

While many retailers have been struggling during the recession, outlet malls, including the ones in Tulare and Gilroy -- are expanding and signing up new retailers and outlet stores have come a long way in offering both quality merchandise and good prices.

With 220 stores, Woodbury Common Premium Outlets In Central Valley, New York, is the biggest outlet mall in the country. And to shoppers, it's a slice of heaven.

"It's all the places I shop elsewhere but at better prices."

"I like a bargain."

"Much more affordable prices."

Consumer reports found you can get more for less when you shop at outlets, but how good is the merchandise?

Jody Rohlena with Consumer Reports: "Some outlets carry the exact same items as regular retail stores, but others don't. The differences can be big or small."

Consumer Reports says be aware return policies at outlets can be stricter than retail stores, so you want to be sure to check the policy when shopping.

Consumer reports compared prices of two outfits, one bought from retail stores, the other from merchandise specially made for the outlet stores. The retail outfit totaled $771 while the one from the outlets $312 -- less than half the cost.

The Banana Republic skirt cost $79 retail and $30 at the outlet.

Judy Rohlena points out, "The outlet skirt has a bit of polyester in it. So it's machine washable, which is convenient. But the flagship skirt is less likely to pill and it has a lot nicer lining."

This J-Crew blouse is $88 retail and about $48 dollars at the outlet. "Both blouses are made of pure silk. But the edges of the ruffles on the outlet store blouse are more likely to fray."

And then there are the two coach bags; $448 retail, $130 at the outlet. "The store bag has softer leather, softer lining. It's got more pockets and sturdier hardware."

Consumer Reports' take?

"If you're looking for something that's going to last through wear and tear, like a bag or shoes, you might want to spend more on a better-made item. If you're shopping for price alone, the outlets almost always win!"

Just because outlet stores are already offering discounted merchandise, doesn't mean you can't save even more: major outlet developers have web sites full of downloadable coupons and e-mail alerts about sales. Some outlet malls have frequent-shopper programs that offer access to exclusive sales, promotions, and special events.

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