One industry that is thriving in this economic downturn is outlet malls. They racked up $30 billion in sales last year. But do outlets really give you a big bang for your buck?
Cincinnati- area shoppers have mixed opinions. Some that we spoke with told us they have found big discounts at Cincinnati Premiere Outlets in Monroe.
Diane Rizeka said "I was there the other day, and I thought they had better deals than I have seen in a while, possibly because of the economy. I was surprised."
But Stephanie Naylor told me she finds better deals at local stores in Deerfield Township as opposed to what she finds after driving a half hour to the outlets. Stephanie said "It's not really what I need. Normally the kind of stores here, like Kohl's and Target, are basically where I shop and find good deals."
So are outlets really worth the trip?
Consumer Reports Magazine Investigates
To find out if outlets truly deliver, Consumer Reports Magazine surveyed 18,000 readers about their nearly 39,000 visits to outlet stores.
Sixty percent of shoppers said outlets offered "exceptional value." But readers said they were more likely to find great deals at stores owned by Coach, Haggar, Izod, and Van Heusen.
And there's more to like about outlet shopping: Consumer Reports says quality is improving.
"About three-quarters of those surveyed characterized the quality of the merchandise they bought as excellent or very good. Now those are impressive statistics," said Marks.
Consumer Reports also did its own quality comparison, secretly buying $2,000 worth of predominantly men's clothes and accessories at outlet and retail stores.
Boxer shorts were $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.
A Polo Ralph Lauren oxford shirt cost $76 from a retail store. The outlet version was $40. But this time the quality was comparable.
However, Consumer Reports says the retail versions were often a bit better, like a pair of Tommy Hilfiger sweat pants. The retail pants have a well-made drawstring, while the outlet's shoestring version looks cheap.
The Bottom Line
If you want top name brand or designer clothing, Consumer Reports says the outlets do deliver. If brand name is not as important, you will probably find cheaper items at Target, Walmart, Kohl's, and other stores.
"The bottom line is that outlet shopping is worth the trip. The merchandise quality in most instances is fine. And in our shopping trip, we saved as much as 61 percent," said Marks. And if you go during semi annual sales, you can save even more.
Wherever you shop, don't waste your money.
Don't Waste Your Money is a registered trademark of the EW Scripps Co.
"Like" John Matarese on Facebook
Follow John on Twitter