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Outlet malls have become a mainstay in our society. Why? Because everyone loves a bargain.
Historically, outlet shops were part of a clothier's warehouse facility- a place where shoppers could visit and actually see the manufacturing process as well. Years ago, shops like these were few and far between, but now outlet malls are located near every major city across the country. There are currently more than 200 outlet centers nationwide.
While some of the factory shops have received flack over the years for creating clothing specifically for the discount locations, others are known for their treasures. Avid shoppers can find styles from the current season at up to 80% off retail.
Here are this author's top picks for the best retail outlets to explore when shopping an outlet mall:
1. Tory Burch: Great accessories, shoes, handbags and more from the current season, at a minimum of 30% off retail
2. Ralph Lauren: Loads of classics like polo shirts, but one-off finds from higher-end labels within the brand
3. Michael Kors: This season's "it" bag at a fraction of the price; accessories and great wardrobe finds
4. Puma: Sports apparel, sneakers, inexpensive visors, shoes ... and a great place to park a restless husband
5. J. Crew: Prepsters' heaven, with brightly colored chinos, sweater sets, playful accessories and menswear
6. Kate Spade: A vividly hued and stimulating experience, with shoes, bags, jewelry and clothing
7. Swarovski: Sparkle queens will find all sorts of quality, affordable bling here; just do some comparison pricing to retail
8. Lululemon: A Mecca for yoga enthusiasts, where stylish athletic apparel is 25-40% off retail
9. Theory: This is the store that has what Oprah called "the perfect black pants," but at far, far less than the pricey retail cost
10. Coach: Notorious for great deals on classic and colorful leather handbags and accessories
Hot tips for shopping outlets
Outlet malls can seem overwhelming, but having a plan in place is important. Consumers should be familiar with current merchandise to be able to identify clothing that may be a few seasons old. Knowing retail prices before entering a store can help shoppers make better decisions.
Shoppers should examine clothing carefully and be sure that the pieces are well-made and not damaged. Be wary of the "Suggested Retail Price," as many times those items are the ones that are created just for the factory store and are a retailer's way of tricking you into thinking you are getting a better deal.
With just weeks to go before Christmas, planning a shopping strategy is a must. Many outlet stores will open at midnight on Nov. 29 in honor of Black Friday. Many of these shops will offer door-buster sales and unbeatable prices. If you are a member of AAA, many outlets also offer special coupon books that are worth the visit to Customer Service to pick up and save even more money.