Consumer Reports: Outlet Malls

October 11, 2011

At outlets, virtually everything is on sale every day. But are you always getting a real deal?

Consumer Reports asked its readers about their nearly 39,000 visits to outlet stores to see if they really got a good bang for their buck.

"We surveyed almost 18,000 subscribers about their outlet shopping experiences. We asked about the key parameters: value, quality, service, and selection," said Consumer Reports' Tod Marks.

Sixty percent of shoppers said outlets offered exceptional value. Readers were more likely to find great deals at stores like Coach, Haggar, Izod, and Van Heusen. And there's more to like about outlet shopping.

"About three-quarters of those surveyed characterized the quality of the merchandise they bought as excellent or very good," said Marks. "Now those are impressive statistics."

Consumer Reports also did its own quality comparison, buying $2,000 worth of predominantly men's clothes and accessories at outlet and retail stores.

Action News found boxer shorts for $10 at the Gap retail store. The shorts from the outlet were just $5. But they were better quality. The retail shorts had loose threads and stitching.

We also found a Ralph Lauren Polo Oxford shirt for $76 at a retail store. The outlet version was $40. This time the quality was comparable.

However, in some cases the retail versions were a bit better. We found Tommy Hilfiger sweat pants at a retail store. They had a well-made drawstring, while the outlet's shoestring version looked cheap.

"The bottom line is that outlet shopping is worth the trip," said Marks. "The merchandise quality in most instances is fine. And in our shopping trip, we saved as much as 61 percent!"

Bottom line, Consumer Reports says you should no longer assume you're getting sloppy seconds at all outlet stores. Coach, Sunglass Hut, and other retailers told Consumer Reports they sell new items made specifically for the outlets.

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