LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Many families are heading back to school shopping, and all of us want to get the most out of our money. Outlets have been popping up in and around the Natural State, but are they a good fit for your family for what you get? KARK, Working4You to find out what you may not know about the outlet rack at your favorite bargain location.
Outlets or Bust?
A lot of shoppers like Leonda Holtoff turn to the Outlets of Little Rock for back to school shopping.
“Even if you have unlimited funds, which we don’t, you still want to look and get the biggest bang for your buck,” Holtoff said, with her two grandkids in tow.
Affordability, variety, bargains and brands are all among the draws cited by shoppers KARK spoke with at the Outlets.
“I think part of it is a bunch of different choices,” said Terri Williams. “I have all of my grandkids here with me, and they have all the stores they want: Nike, Under Armour.”
“We come out here for the deals,” Steven Hall said. “My son wanted a plaid shirt, so we came here. Sometimes, we go to the mall because there are better deals there. But a lot of times there are better deals here.”
“I think everybody’s price conscious right now,” Gina McNabb said. “We have little ones, so we can get affordable clothes for them. And my older daughter really likes the athletic stores. There’s everything here in one place.”
During the recession, outlets did 10 times the business compared to retail locations, according to UALR Business School Dean Jane Wayland. Now, Arkansans have a number of choices in and around the state to shop outlets.
“It may be worth your money to go and spend it that way, but you still have to be aware of what you’re buying,” Wayland said.
Not Your Momma’s Outlets: New Lines, Fewer Holdovers
Many folks might think outlets are what they used to be: name brands you recognize with retail’s unsold items or pieces with minor mistakes. But according to Wayland, in today’s outlets, shopper’s are likely to find items made just for the outlet that are never sold in the retail storefront or intended to be marketed there.
“I think people who are really aware of what they’re buying realize those are specifically made for the store or the outlet stores, others do not,” she said. “There’s usually 80 percent possibly of purchased or manufactured specifically for the outlet.”
According to Wayland, and other industry experts, it’s a marketing strategy to reach a wider base. If outlets were attempting to sell just the retail items, they would miss out on the greater portion of the market looking for a lower price point. There wouldn’t be enough holdover items to feed demand, and those shopping the outlets likely wouldn’t shop in the retail location, because they couldn’t afford it.
The items in the outlet or factory store locations are usually slightly different than those offered at the retail locations. That could mean a difference in colors, prints, fits, fabrics and designer details like buttons, pleats or other add-ons. That means that the prices can be lower, but so can the quality.
“Just know that going in, that you can get a great deal at an outlet store, but it may be a little less quality,” said Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. “Money is hard work, and we want to make sure Arkansans protect themselves by knowing what they’re getting when they buy.”
Signs to Look for as a Savvy Shopper
One place that can get confusing for shoppers is the suggested price on the tag in outlet locations. That price doesn’t necessarily mean the item was ever sold for that amount or that it was ever sold in a retail location for that comparable price.
“You really do not know what actually that product ever sold for,” Wayland said. “You really don’t.”
Lawsuits have come from consumers who say the price tags are misleading and meant to make shoppers feel like they’re getting comparable quality or a bigger deal than they actually are for the items they purchase at outlets. Some outlets offer disclaimers explaining how they arrive at the price, like G.H. Bass, but the Arkansas Attorney General’s office encourages consumers to ask store staff to be sure.
“Go ahead and ask, ‘Is this the retail value if I bought this at the retail store? Was this made for an outlet store or retail store?'” Rutledge said. “Ask those questions before you make that purchase and before you have buyer’s remorse.”
Another sign a line was made for an outlet, the inside tags. If you take a look at various outlet offerings versus their retail look-a-likes, you can notice small dots, diamonds, lines or even dates that indicate an outlet tag that are missing on the retail label. It’s something a brand loyalist might notice, but others might miss.
“It will have some signifying mark on there,” Wayland said. “So, if I shop at Gap all the time, I might notice that difference. If I don’t, I might not. The label doesn’t want to compromise it’s retail brand, so it has to distinguish between the two.”
The lines might also feature style names a frequent shopper is unfamiliar with – think the Hamilton Trouser or the Savannah Jean. If you look online, you likely won’t find those same lines on the retail website. Check the store’s return policy, as well. If you can only return the items to an outlet location, then you’re dealing with an outlet line versus a retail leftover.
If you have a wide range of choices when it comes to colors and sizes, that’s another sign, according to Wayland, that you’re shopping an outlet line. It might vary in quality to get to that lower price point, but that might be the perfect fit for your family.
“If you’re shopping for something on trend or something basic like a white tee shirt, why pay more?” Wayland said. “Why not save that money, especially if the quality is as good as you need it to be.”
“You know you have a growing kid who is going to change sizes over the next six months – then maybe an outlet store is exactly where you need to be shopping,” Rutledge agreed. “If you want something that will last several years, it might be worth it to shop retail and look for sales. The key is to be an educated shopper and know what you’re buying.”
Leonda Holtoff said she feels like the outlets are a fair trade for the money, saying, “I’m not afraid to pay more for quality, but if I can get at least as good of quality here as I do online, then I’m going to come here.”
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