Become a Savvy Shopper

I did my bit to support the retail economy of Las Vegas, Nevada last week.  The whole family spent a day at the Premium Outlets in the North (a 30 minute bus ride/15 minute taxi ride) from the Strip.  I had loads of fun and I think we got some real bargains for everyone in the family.

My clients who are planning trips to the US often ask me about shopping in the factory outlets.

  • Are the discounts worth the special trip (many are located outside the city metro areas so you need transport)?
  • Is the quality decent?  Is the range current?
  • Are things laid out well?
  • What are the return policies?

I thought I’d share with you our recent experience so you can judge if outlet shopping is for you.   (The nearest American Premium Outlet is in Honolulu.  We’ve also been to the outlets in Hong Kong which are set up a bit differently.  Be prepared to still pay a lot of money for discounted luxury branded goods in Hong Kong!)

Factory outlet or discount outlet?

You may not realise it but what we consider outlet shopping in Australia is different to outlet shopping in the US.  If you’ve ever been to a Direct Factory Outlets (DFO), you’ll know the shops sell left over merchandise from normal retail shops ie the quality is what you’d expect of the brand. The DFO outlet may also sell overruns, merchandise with slight defects or out of season stock.  You can get remarkable bargains if you’re prepared to hunt around the racks.

At places like the Premium Shopping Outlets in the US, you need to know whether the shop is a factory shop or a true outlet.  The quality of the merchandise is very different in each.  Let me give you an example.

I have a soft spot for Coach handbags.  I went into the Coach outlet and the salesperson was very frank about which bags were specifically designed for the factory outlet and which were from the true retail lines (only sold through Coach boutiques or concession stands in department shops).  The factory outlet styles are real Coach, but are simpler in design and made of less expensive materials like canvas hence the lower prices.  The salesperson even taught me how to read the price tag to differentiate the two – anything with an F on the price tag is a factory design.

This particular Coach factory outlet carried a handful of retail bags that were from past seasons hence the heavy discount.  I couldn’t resist and managed to get another 30% discount for the day and paid $190 including 8.5% sales tax (RRP $395)for my new red patent leather bag.

Quality versus price

Now armed with this information, you can determine if you’re getting real value for the quality of the clothes you buy at American outlets.  Ask the salesperson where the stock is from.  In my experience (only because I know these brands well), Banana Republic, JCrew, Calvin Klein, DKNY, Ann Taylor and Nike outlets are likely to carry more factory specific lines with a smattering of normal retail product mixed in.   Feel the quality of any garment and you’ll notice the difference.

Another way to find good value is to go to the department stores outlets – Nordstrom Rack, Barneys, Saks or TJMaxx that may carry excess retail stock. You’ll more likely get the quality you expect of the individual brands.

Our great bargains

Sports Shoes

My son Marcus (thirteen and growing every single day) had a field day at the Nike Factory Store.  He bought Nike shoes for every sport he plays for about $40 a pair.  Given that the shoes only last him about 3-4 months anyway, I don’t care so much about their quality.  We bought him shoes in his current size as well as half a size up.  We believe the savings paid for a new suitcase (a very popular purchase at the outlets to cart around purchases on the day).


Andrew needed winter sweaters and bought two 100% wool ones at Brooks Brothers (yes boring, but good quality).  They happened to have the size he needed and were marked down from $120 to $30 each.

I tracked down a pair of white skinny Levis (cheaper than anything else I saw online) and bought a cashmere Cozy cardigan from DKNY (retail stock, marked down to $69 from $175).  I think buying basics from the outlets gives you the best return for you money as long as you are happy with the quality.  

 Get the most out of outlet shopping

  1. Have a list of what you want to buy. If possible do a bit of research online so you know if the outlet is offering comparable quality for the price.
  2. Map out your route prior to arriving at the outlets.  With over 150 shops organized in confusing layout, if you don’t prioritise you’ll get sidetracked or very tired because you cover a lot of ground walking back and forth.
  3. Try things on even if they only cost $9.99. If it doesn’t fit, the $9.99 could have gone towards a more expensive item that you really loved
  4. Dress so you can pop something on top of what you’re wearing.  Sometimes there’s a long line at the dressing room or you have to wait for someone to open it up for you.  My most efficient shopping uniform is a cami and leggings.
  5. Be careful of daily specials and the incentives.  The Premium Outlet website allows you to sign up for daily VIP specials, meaning you’ll get more discount for shopping on the day.   For example, DKNY offered me an extra 10% for buying four pieces.  I didn’t use it because there was nothing else I wanted.   It can be easy to get carried away and buy stuff you don’t really like, need or want just to get an extra discount.

I hope you found that useful.  The main thing is to have fun. If you truly love something and it flatters your shape, I say buy it.  Better you take it home with you than spend time regretting you didn’t buy it.