Cheapism.com warns, "Price isn't the only consideration when you're shopping for gifts, however, and often can be misleading."
Here are Cheapism's tips for finding the best deals:
- Know what you're buying and where it came from. Is that Coach bag a deeply discounted jewel or a made-for-outlet design? Each of the leading brands mentioned in the report is represented by a particular mix of products in its outlet stores. Some items are liquidation merchandise, but others are made specifically for factory stores and some are the same stuff you'd find at retail. Don't be afraid to ask a salesperson about the origin of an item before you buy.
- Pay attention to detail. Made-for-outlet products are sometimes constructed with less expensive material and less embellishment. For example, a red sweater dress from the Gymboree outlet emulated a dress from the previous season's retail line but was woven from thinner material and lacked pockets and faux-crystal buttons. On the other hand, cosmetic flaws on discounted Dutch ovens at Le Creuset were scarcely noticeable.
- Take the list price with a grain of salt. Outlets try to entice shoppers by printing two prices on the tag: the MSRP, or manufacturer's suggested retail price, and the lower outlet price. Ostensibly this tells you how much you can save off retail, but remember that much of the merchandise some stores carry is made for the outlet and was never sold at retail.
- Shop sales and use coupons. Much of the actual savings at outlet malls comes from sales and coupons the stores hand out at the door or offer online. Before discounts, the savings at the outlet mall were closer to 20 percent in Cheapism's survey.
- Retail stores sometimes offer better value. Depending on what you're looking for, it may not always be worth it to make the trip to the outlet mall. Check Cheapism's rundown of outlets vs. retail to find out when it pays to shop the outlets.
One other idea from me: Check to see if you belong to an organization that has a discount with outlet retailers -- such as AARP or AAA. I got an extra 20% off once at a Reebok outlet just by showing my AAA card. (And no, I am NOT a member of AARP!)
Happy bargain hunting.