There is a big market in the UK and worldwide for outlet stores which provide an accessible secondary market for goods such as clothes, shoes, homeware, luggage etc. Here I am going to share my experience of shopping at Bicester Village and McArthurGlen.
I had originally thought that these outlet stores are a place where retailers sell excess inventory i.e. items form prior season which are not sold out in main stores due to overstocking or lack of sales either due to price of fashion style. This meant that a style-conscious local could enjoy a great day of shopping for their favourite brands with prices reduced by at least 20% off all year round. However, I noticed that over the years, this model is no longer sustainable as the interest in outlet stores have increased due to influx of tourist from Asia.
To cope with this demand, outlet stores have started manufacturing stock specific for outlet stores. Whilst I don’t mind purchasing stock produced for outlet, what I do mind is when the quality is impacted. Most often than not, retailers use cheaper material and manufacturing methods to keep cost low. This is at odds with my principle of buying good quality items to last for quite sometime. It feels at this point I am buying the item just to have that brand’s item. It is very hard to differentiate items produced for the outlet from main stores because they have the exact same tag and even show a RRP and an outlet price. When queried, the sales assistant at Michael Kors, explained that the RPP would reflect the cost of the item had it been sold in a main store – cheeky!.
I think the most disappointing observation was that stores like Karen Millen, Reiss, Burberry etc. are selling items for a higher price than they did during the sales at main stores. I personally would not have noticed had I not been diligently checking the sales webpages of these stores in the past two months. For example, a Karen Millen Faux Fur Feather Coat I purchased a month ago for £112 and mentioned in my blog here is selling for £235 in the Outlet. It does have the original retail price of £350 on the tag so it looks like a good purchased for someone who had not realised it was in the sale a month ago – this someone is likely to be a tourist from another country which is the main clientele of these outlet stores.
I reckon at this point of time, I might have put you off shopping at outlet stores. However, this is not the intention. The main aim of this post is to educate shoppers and for them to be informed when shopping in outlets. There are certainly bargains to be held. For example, the Furla Metropolis bag below was on sale for £115 from the RRP of £235.
Then there was this Stella McCartney trousers on sale at £64.50 – the original retail price was £535 making it a whooping 88% off. There were sizes 36, 38 and 40 available on the rack along with various dresses at around £100.
So you might be wondering at this point as to what is the best way to navigate outlet stores and walk out with a bargain. I have listed my key tips below to help you:
- If you see something that appears to be a bargain, take the item to the sales assistant and let them know you are interested to purchase three of it and you want them new from the stock room. If they check and say yes no problem, tell them you will purchase it on your way back so that you are not weighed down by bags. This is important as outlet stores do not have a money back return policy so even if you change your mind a minute later, you are stuck with an exchange or credit note which can be used at outlet stores only. What you do is you walk around (in peace knowing that there is more than three of that item in stock in the outlet) other shops doing the same, then when you sit down to have lunch or a drink, start listing down what caught your eye that day. Start looking online (there are is free WiFi available!) to see what price the item is/was sold for online in order to understand if the item is an outlet only stock or if the price was indeed a bargain.
- You see multiple variations of the item you like e.g. a wallet from Furla, Ted Baker and Michael Kors but need only one and are just not able to decide which one you want in the few hours that you are there – what do you do? My advice is to see if there is someone else you can gift the wallet you decide not to keep e.g. an upcoming birthday or Christmas present. That way, you are not wasting money by having a stock of wallets. I must stress however, that you need to ensure that you have a person in mind for the gift i.e. that the person would like it. Do not assume that there might be someone you will give the gift too later on as most likely than not, there wouldn’t be someone suitable and you will have a stock of wallets!
- The most important advice I have is to head to outlet stores with the mindset that you are likely to walk out with nothing and it was a day of just browsing the stores and spending time with a friend. This is because the last thing you want is to purchase items for the sake of making your visit/train fares “worthwhile”.
I hope this article helps you the next time you head to outlet stores. If you have any tips, please do share them in the comments box below.