3 Rules for Outlet Malls

I've recently had opportunity to visit a couple of different outlet malls:  once on vacation with my family, once while searching for bargain backpacks for school, and just last night, looking for some workout clothes.  The thing that struck me, in all three places, was that the prices weren't really that good.  Sure, I found a couple of shirts for the kids at the Old Navy outlet, but I only bought them because I wanted to get a good family portrait and needed something that matched.  Other than those shirts, I left all three malls empty handed.  I wasn't seeing deals that made me say "Wow!" and start shopping like mad.  So why is everyone so crazy about outlets?

Well, today I was sent a link to this article about how outlet malls convince customers that they are offering great savings:  How Outlet Malls Have Convinced Shoppers Into Thinking They're Getting a Sweet Deal.  It is rather long but it provides a lot of explanation for why customers are so enticed by outlet malls.  It is fascinating to see the background and marketing that goes into these mega-malls.

Of course, this doesn't mean that you should never shop at an outlet mall.  It just means that you need to be aware of what good prices are on the items you buy.  Of course, it is impossible to know the fair price of every item in a mall.  This is why it is so easy to be fooled by the outlet mall pricing. 

If you are looking for a particular item, an outlet mall can be a great place to get lots of options in one place and the regular prices usually aren't too bad.  For example, I always head to the nearby outlet mall when I need new tennis shoes because there are three or four stores that carry my brand.  I can try on a variety of shoes and compare prices quickly without driving all over town.

On the flip side, outlet malls usually carry my favorite brand of clothing.  Even at the "take 50% off everything in the store" outlet prices, they are still more expensive at the outlet mall than they are at the bargain store where I usually buy them.  And not just a little more expensive, but several times more expensive.  Why would I want to pay $20 for a skirt at the outlet when I can get it at the discount store for $7?

If you are headed to an outlet mall, following these three rules will help prevent overspending:

  1. Make a list.  What items do you need?  Not having a need when you go shopping is asking for a shopping disaster!

  2. Make a budget.  Know how much you are willing to spend on each item.  Do you need running shoes?  How much are you willing to spend on running shoes?  What is a great price, what is a good price, and what is too much?

  3. Allow yourself plenty of time.  Outlet malls are designed to make it hard to get out quickly, particularly if you want to comparison shop between stores.  If you are rushed, you are more likely to make bad choices.


You might have noticed that these are the same three rules that should apply to all shopping trips.  Yup, they are.  Follow them in all your shopping and you will find that your spending will decrease and your home won't be cluttered up with unnecessary purchases.


About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.
  • Observations are pretty run-of-the-mill; just short of ‘brilliant’.
    [I have no personal interest in outlet malls]