What a surprise, another capitalistic system technique of picking your pocket without letting you know that your pocket is being picked, rather making you feel happy that you let your pocket picked!

I am talking of the outlet stores. 90% of the items that we see in outlet stores are specifically made for outlet stores. sure a few store returns from the regular stores turn up here, but most are just inferior quality items of the same manufacturer which show up there.

Goods of High-Quality but Not Always Rock-Bottom Prices; Strategies for Saving Big Bucks

YONKERS, NY – Shoppers who visit stores at outlet malls expecting to scrounge through bins of mediocre merchandise should give their perceptions a makeover according to the May issue of Consumer Reports.

Consumer Reports went undercover at hundreds of outlet stores and the Consumer Reports National Research Center surveyed more than 6,000 readers to find ways to get the most value out of outlet stores. Among the findings:

* Outlet goods are high-quality – 77 percent of outlet shoppers said the merchandise was of the quality of what they bought at full-price stores.
* Prices are not always rock-bottom – only one-third of survey respondents said outlet prices were substantially below sale prices at regular stores.
* Outlets stores often sell different goods than regular stores – but the differences aren’t deal breakers.
* Consumers can save a bundle by buying irregulars – Most of the defects CR encountered were miniscule.
* Frequent-shopper clubs and coupons can add savings

WHERE TO SHOP

Consumer Reports rated 33 top outlet stores based on survey results for value, quality, selection and service. The winners for value and quality: Lenox, L.L. Bean, Mikasa, and OshKosh B’gosh. Survey respondents noted that VF Outlets (apparel), Coach (handbags and accessories), Lenox and Pfaltzgraff (dinnerware), and Saks Off 5th (clothing) offered exceptional discounts over the prices charged at regular stores for those brands.

When looking at selection, readers’ picks included Carter’s, Corning, Harry&David, Kitchen Collection, Lenox, Mikasa, and OshKosh B’gosh. Respondents found the sales help at Harry & David to be exceptional as did CR’s nosy reporter. Readers’ picks for best service include Coach, Harry & David, Jockey, L.L. Bean, Land’s End, Lenox, Mikasa, and Pfaltzgraff.

STRATEGIES FOR SHOPPING

Consumer Reports notes that great bargains, high-quality merchandise, wide selection, and a pleasant experience are available to consumers if they shop right. Following are CR’s strategies:

* Time the visit – Midweek is usually the quietest time to shop outlet malls. Arrive as soon as the stores open. Also consider dinnertime to beat mobs.
* Catch the biggest sales – Outlets follow the same calendar as regular stores.
* Use coupons – The major outlet developers have Web sites full of downloadable coupons. There may also be e-mail alerts about sales.
* Join an outlet mall frequent-shopper program – These can offer access to exclusive sales, promotions, and special events. Members may also be able to pick up coupon books at the mall’s customer-service office. Clubs and coupons are usually free, though some may charge.
* Explore other discounts – Some centers offer additional discounts to shoppers older than 50 on specified days. Other memberships may offer discounts – i.e. AAA members may qualify for another discount at participating stores.
* Look first at merchandise that came from regular stores – Shoppers who are unsure of the origin should ask.
* Consider irregulars – These are among the most deeply discounted goods.
* Shop for out-of-season items – These are typically found at the back of the store.
* Understand return policies – Return policies vary but generally outlet merchandise cannot be returned to a full-priced store, and vice-versa.

Paying full retail is so yesterday. Shoppers these days want quality merchandise at a discount price. And that’s just what outlet stores promise. But can they deliver the goods?

To find out we teamed up with Consumer Reportsmagazine to find out.

These stores promise big discounts and great deals on quality merchandise. Most of the shoppers we spoke to felt that’s what they found here.

“Shopping here really helps save a lot of money,” one woman shopper told me.

A guy who had just come out of the Nike outlet store seemed pleased. “Great prices, great deals,” he said.

But do you really bag the bargains at outlet stores? And more importantly, what about the quality?

To find out, I headed to the Seattle Premium Outlet Center near Marysville and went undercover, shopping with one of the best bargain hunters I know, my wife Debra. We hit store, after store, after store.

At the Restoration Hardware outlet, Deb found paint selling for more than 30% off the retail store price. Normally it’s $32 a gallon. Here it was just $19.99. Same paint, just an older style label on the can.

Next stop, the Ralph Lauren outlet, where she found a yellow mesh-knit Polo shirt for $49.99. We found the exact same shirt selling at a big name department store in Seattle for $65.

Then if was off to Borders outlet where many of the best sellers are 1/3 off and some of the overstock specials are amazing. A coffee table book, “Diana, the Portrait” is selling for $31.50 on Amazon. At the outlet store it’s just $4.99!

One of the best bargains we found was at Brooks Brothers. Deb got a cotton sweater vest, in last year’s color for $23.99. The tag said it had been reduced from $125. And indeed, we went to the Brooks Brothers retail store in Seattle we found the exact same vest – in this year’s color – selling for $125.

After 7 hours of shopping, I can honestly say that we found a lot of good deals and a few real steals and some prices that were just OK.

Consumer Reports came to the same conclusion when it surveyed more than 6,000 outlet shoppers for its May issue.

Good, But Not Rock Bottom

A third of the readers we surveyed felt that the outlet prices were good, but they weren’t always rock bottom,” says Senior Editor Tod Marks, who ran the project.

“On any given day, you could probably beat an outlet price at a boutique or department store when they run a super sale,” Marks says.

Of course, at the outlet store you don’t have to wait; everything is on sale every day. But just what are they selling?

At J. Jill, most of the things we found were last season’s merchandise and overstocks. But there were a few new arrivals.

The Nike Outlet is packed with older style shoes you won’t find at Nike Town any more, which is why the prices are so low. They also have cosmetic seconds that have minor imperfections.

I bought a pair of cosmetic second Nike Shocks Lethal. They sell at the full retail stores for $100. But these have a minor blemish you can barely see and cosmetic flaw in the stitching that’s almost unnoticeable. I paid $49.99.

Here’s something else we learned on our shopping trip: Some outlet stores sell things that were never in a regular retail store.

For instance, some of the clothes at the Nike Outlet were made just to be sold here. Same thing at J. Crew and Brooks Brothers. If you see a Brooks Brothers tag with a 3-4-6 logo, it means the item was made specifically for Brooks Brothers outlet.

“If you are making it especially for the outlet, does it differ in quality from what you’ll find in a regular retail store? And the fact is, is does differ,” says Tod Marks of Consumer Reports.

That’s because the manufacturer needs to cut some corners to keep the price down for the outlet version. Sometimes it’s a cheaper material. Sometimes it’s less detail in the fit and finish.

For instance, a short-sleeve T-shirt at the Eddie Bauer outlet was $3.50 less than a similar shirt from the Eddie Bauer store. It doesn’t have the fancy stitching around the collar and the sleeve. If you can live without that, and want to save a few bucks, the outlet version is the way to go.

We bought one pair at the Gap outlet for $29.99. The other was full retail, $42.50. The more expensive pair is made from slightly better material. It has a button at the top, while outlet model has a hook. There’s also a Gap label on the back. The outlet brand doesn’t have that. The cheaper pair isn’t inferior – just different.

By the way, these outlet stores do run sales, so if you time it right, you can save even more. Many also offer coupons via the Internet. So be sure to check the outlet mall’s Web site for coupons.

What about returns? Most outlet stores stores have fairly liberal return policies (although all sales are final at the Restoration Hardware outlet). Just remember, you probably can’t bring an unwanted item back to the regular retail store. You’ll probably be required to take it to the outlet store. If you don’t live near the mall, that would be a major hassle.

Bottom line: based on my experience, an outlet store can be a great palace to shop. You can save money on quality items. You just need to be sure you know exactly what you’re buying and how that “discount” price compares to the actual retail price.