How to Determine if Products Were Made for an Outlet Store

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With consumers becoming more cost conscious over the years, outlet malls and factory stores are becoming increasingly popular. While outlet malls market that they offer amazing discount prices on designer products, consumers may not be getting what they think they are.

In the past, outlet malls and factory stores sold left over inventory from prior seasons that retailers could not sell. That is no longer the case. Many of the products sold in outlet stores are now made specifically for those stores. Some reports show that as much as 82% of products sold in outlet stores were never sold in retail stores or department stores before. By itself, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. However, in order to be profitable, the products being sold at an outlet store may be lower quality than the products sold in department stores or non-outlet retail locations.

This can frustrate consumers as they may not be purchasing what they expected. Many outlet mall shoppers want to purchase the products that were once sold at prior retail stores so you get the high quality product at the steep discount. So how can you determine if the product you want to buy is a product that wasn't made for an outlet store? Here are tips to increase the chances of you purchasing an item not made for outlet stores.

Banana Republic Outlet tag with 3 diamonds.  You'll find similar markings on Gap, J. Crew, and other brands.
Banana Republic Outlet tag with 3 diamonds. You'll find similar markings on Gap, J. Crew, and other brands. | Source

Look at the tags

Many stores label their clothes and products with different tags or markings to indicate they were made specifically for an outlet store. For example, Gap, Banana Republic, and Jcrew add stars and/or boxes to their tags to indicate clothes that are outlet/factory specific. Sometimes a tag may specifically say it was manufactured for an outlet or factory store. Note that the tags aren't enough to prove or disprove if something was made specifically for an outlet store. For example, the tags on Ralph Lauren outlet clothing is very close, possible identical, from the products sold at department stores.

In addition, take a look at the tags and how the discounted price as been marked. If the discounted price has a new sticker attached or a hand written modified price, there is a decent chance the product is not outlet specific and was sold at another retail location before. Many factory specific products will have tags that have both the printed MSRP price and the discounted outlet price on them. This suggests a product was specifically manufactured with a discount already put in place.

Search the product name online

Many outlet/factory stores name their products differently to differentiate them from the products they sell at their normal retail locations. A good way to determine if a product is outlet specific is to simply look and see if the product exists on the manufacturer's website or other retailers. For example, Brooks Brothers sells a line of products labeled as 346 in their factory stores. This line of products does not exist in their retail locations or their website.

As another example, many Hugo Boss outlet stores sell a suit with a fit known as Grand/Central. You can find this fit listed on the tag. If you search this suit fit online, you'll find the suit is only sold on Neiman Marcus's Last Call website (which is Neiman Marcus's outlet brand). You cannot find is this suit in a Neiman Marcus department store or any other department store. You cannot even find this suit on Hugo Boss's website. So there's a good chance this suit is specific to outlet stores.

You should especially check the product name of shoes you purchase. While last season's shoe styles from Cole Haan or Bruno Magli may not longer exist on their websites, you may still find old reviews for them on Zappos or Amazon. If you see that they were previously sold from legitimate online shoe retailers, then it's a good chance the product wasn't made specifically for outlet stores.

Look for racks of random clothes

If you've ever been to a Marshalls or TJ Maxx, you will be familiar with racks of clothes that are not sorted in any particular order. You can find many great clothes at great prices, but you lose the convenience of shopping at a department store where products are neatly placed and convenient to find.

This is no different with outlet stores. At outlet versions of major department stores (e.g. Nordstrom Rack, Neiman Marcus Last Call, Saks Off 5th, Bloomingdales Outlet, Barneys Warehouse), you will find similar racks of clothes strewn about. You can find an incredible deal on clothing that was once in the department store, but you'll have to look for it.

Ask a sales associate

Most sales associates are more than willing to tell you if an item came from a retail store. Unfortunately, many of them do not know the answer.

Use some common sense

At the end of the day, you should use some common sense. Examine clothing to determine if the quality seems up to snuff with the actual retail items you may find at a department store or manufacturer retail store.

As an example, at several Saks Off 5th stores, you can find racks and racks of Saks Fifth Avenue Black label clothing. To the side, you can find a few Hugo Boss, Valentino, Theory, or Armani suits. Given how little clothing is Saks Fifth branded in the main departments stores and website, there's a good chance this clothing is made specifically for the outlet locations. However, there's a decent chance the other name brand suits did come from the department store.

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