Outlet Shopping Secrets

While many retailers have been struggling during the recession, outlet malls are expanding. Outlets can save you big money-as much as 70%, according to Consumer Reports ShopSmart.

With 220 stores, Woodbury Common Premium Outlets in Central Valley, New York, is the biggest outlet mall in the country.

Consumer Reports ShopSmart found you can get more for less when you shop at outlets, but how good is the merchandise?

Jody Rohlena of Consumer Reports ShopSmart says, "Some outlets carry the exact same items as regular retail stores, but others don't. The differences can be big or small."

ShopSmart compared prices of two outfits, one bought from retail stores, the other from merchandise specially made for the outlet stores.

The retail outfit totaled $771.00. The one from the outlets, $312.

The Banana Republic skirt cost $79 retail and $30 at the outlet.

Rohlena says, "The outlet skirt has a bit of polyester in it. So it's machine washable, which is convenient. But the flagship skirt is less likely to pill and it has a lot nicer lining."

This J-Crew blouse is $88 retail and about $48 at the outlet.

Rohlena says, "Both blouses are made of pure silk. But the edges of the ruffles on the outlet store blouse are more likely to fray."

And then there are two Coach bags, $48 retail, $130 outlet.

Rohlena says, "The store bag has softer leather, softer lining. It's got more pockets and sturdier hardware."

Consumer Reports also says if you're looking for something that's going to last through wear and tear, like a bag or shoes, you might want to spend more on a better-made item.

If you're shopping for price alone, the outlets almost always win.

Consumer Reports ShopSmart says be aware return policies at outlets can be stricter than retail stores, so you want to be sure to check the policy when shopping.

Another great way to save is to join the frequent-shopper programs available at many outlet stores like Crabtree and Evelyn, Jockey, and Maidenform.

These programs offer coupons and give bonus savings on your birthday.

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