A Guide to Shopping for Outlet Items

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By Luciana Oliveira

At one time, buying from a designer brand was something most of us could only dream of, but in the 1930s outlet stores arrived, selling overstock or slightly damaged items at a discount. Outlets were often located near clothing factories, but by the mid-70s, outlet malls were opening up across the United States.

Outlet shopping didn’t arrive in the UK until 1993, but ever since they have proved massively successful, with stores selling discounted name-brand items popping up all over the UK and Ireland. Some commonly-purchased items from outlets include shoes, homewares and everyday clothing items like jeans from the Diesel Outlet shop.

Exciting as it is to find designer-name clothes at a fraction of the cost, navigating an outlet shopping centre might feel a little disorientating, especially if you’re new to the experience and not sure where to start. If you also have little ones in tow, things can become even more of a challenge. Fortunately, this in-depth survival guide to outlet shopping has all you need to know, starting with a few basic tips:

General Tips

  1. If you have your mind set on a specific item, outlet shopping might not be the best option, but if you’re willing to go in with an open mind, you could be pleasantly surprised. Outlet shopping is a great opportunity to try out new brands and fresh styles you might not take a second look at, so don’t be afraid to experiment a little. 
  2. You may see one of two labels: “factory line” or “outlet only”. If it’s the latter, chances are it’s not overstock, but an item manufactured for an outlet store. The quality of these items can be a little hit-and-miss, so be sure to check for flimsy fabrics and loose seams.
  3. It might feel a little odd to shop for a swimsuit in October, but you can get some great discounts by making off-season purchases. 
  4. Price-check items using mobile or online apps that compare prices across different stores to ensure you get the best deal. 
  5. Look for additional discounts: if the store sends physical coupons, bring them with you, you may find there’s extra off for students, medical staff or other groups as well. 
  6. Outlet stores may include ex-display or lightly-used items that tend to have minor defects. If you can’t fix these at home, in most cases a decent tailor can do it for you. Don’t be shy of buying clothing in a larger size if it can be tailored to fit.
  7. Lastly, ask yourself two important questions: does it go with anything else you wear, and does wearing it make you feel fabulous? If it’s a no to either of these, avoid it. However, if it’s a resounding yes, pop it into your basket.

Out and About

If you’re planning an expedition to an outlet village, it helps to prepare. Iif the weather forecast predicts sunshine, expect it to be busy, especially if there is a big sale happening. One way to avoid this is to go as early as possible, as stores will also be tidier first thing in the morning. Alternatively, you can check online: in most cases a quick Google search will tell you when a store is likely to be busy. 

A tip for once you arrive is to steer past the eye-catching displays by the door: generally these are put there to distract shoppers and tempt you to buy additional items you might not need. Instead, make a b-line for the far corners, as that’s where you’ll find the clearance sections.

What to Bring

As any parent knows, the key to surviving any outing is a well-stocked bag (ideally crossbody, for safety and ease-of-access), including all the essentials. However, it’s best to avoid carrying more than you need, which is why we’ve also put together this handy checklist of what to bring:

  • If you have very little ones,pack a few extra nappies, wipes and any other baby basics.
  • A fully-charged mobile phone if you’re shopping with another adult and you part ways, this will help you find them, and you can use it for shopping-related apps.
  • The sheer size of some outlet centres can be daunting if you’ve not previously visited, so make sure you download or print a map to bring with you.
  • Any paper or digital coupons or vouchers, and be sure to check the expiration dates first to see that they still work.
  • Air con and shifting indoor and outdoor temperatures are a recipe for irritation, so aim to dress  with light layers so that you won’t also have to carry a bulky coat with you.
  • If you’ve been shopping for a couple of hours, you may hear the food court beckoning. Save yourself some money by bringing something to help everyone stay hydrated and to keep growling bellies at bay. 
  • Adding more children to the mix might sound counterproductive, but bringing one of your child’s buddies along can help keep them occupied while preventing any potential crankiness,
  • Set a budget and a running total so that you don’t get swept up in the thrill of the hunt. It can be all-too-easy to lose track of your purchases and overspend.

Online Outlets

There’s pros and cons to shopping online, with the main one being you can’t assess the quality by touch. Be sure to check the return policy to see if you can “try before you buy”. If you can, you’ll likely have to return it to an outlet version of the store.

When shopping for outlet items, always check the return policy, especially if you’re buying online, as what you see isn’t always what you get. Signing up to a mailing list or newsletter could bring you more bargains.These sometimes come with promo codes or coupons, which you can also find using separate mobile apps and online platforms. If you hate inbox clutter, just redirect them to a specific folder or your junk mail, where you can check them later. 

Don’t check out first without looking for online discount codes; with any luck, you can get even more than you bargained for.

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Luciana joined our team as a mum blogger in 2020. A dedicated mum to a lively daughter and a dog, Luna, Luciana brings authenticity and passion to every post. Her expertise in parenting and lifestyle topics offers practical, relatable advice for real-life situations.

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