How To Avoid Getting Ripped Off At Outlet Stores

by SharonKurheg

Several cities in the U.S. are known for their outlet stores. If you’re looking for big-time outlet shopping, Gettysburg PA, Las Vegas NV and Branson MO are just some of the destinations you may want to hit. A website called OutletBound is a good guide for a wider variety of outlet stores, outlet malls, and anything else an outlet shopper would want to know about.

Outlets are big business. That wasn’t always the case, though. They started off small, in the 1930s, when factory stores would sell damaged or excess goods to their employees at a discount. They eventually opened it up to non-employees, and in 1936, the first “outlet store” opened, with the intent to sell off merchandise that they had too many of, were no longer in season, and/or were “seconds.”

Until the mid-70s, that’s all outlets were – storefronts that were used as a way for factories to get rid of merchandise that would be otherwise difficult to sell. In 1974, the first multi-store outlet center opened (in Reading, PA) and it’s just exploded from there.

Over the decades, with the popularity of outlets so high, they’ve morphed from just selling seconds and overstock to some of that plus a whole lot of items specifically made to be sold in outlets. However, those items are oftentimes purposely made more cheaply, so they can still be sold at “outlet prices,” which are usually sold at a discount. So the stitching on the seams of a shirt might not be as finished as what they sell in their regular stores (and come loose after a few washings). A towel made for the outlet might be thinner than what you’d find in Macy’s. Or the wheels on that rolling luggage might only have 4 bolts holding each wheel on, instead of 6 (and you discover at the luggage carousel that one of the wheels has fallen off just as you’re starting your 2-week, multi-city trip in Japan).

Here are some ways to know:

Ann Taylor

Look for the word “factory” under the name, on the label. Those are “made for outlet” items.

Banana Republic

Stuff made specifically for the outlets will have three small diamonds under the brand name on the label.

Brooks Brothers

If the label has the number 346 on it, it’s specifically made for the outlet.


Look at the tag for these. Items made for the outlets have a serial number that starts with the letter F.

The Gap, Gap Kids & Baby Gap

Labels on the outlet clothes have three small squares below the brand name.

J. Crew

Like Banana Republic, items made specifically for the outlets will have two small diamonds under the label’s brand name.

Kate Spade

Outlet clothing has an embroidered spade above the label name. The stitching on the tag is also greenish instead of gold.

For their bags and wallets from the outlet, the spade logo is a square with a hollowed-out spade in the middle or a stamped spade (the “good stuff” is just the spade logo, no square around it). Their purses also will not have protective metal feet at the bottom.

Michael Kors

The interior of bags made for the outlets look very different from the “good stuff.” The made for factory bags (MFF) repeat a different logo in their interior that spells out “Michael KORS.” The “good” bags repeat the classic “MK” logo.


The “good stuff” will always be on the clearance rack at the outlets. Anything stocks in significant quantity were made for the outlet.


Their method is similar to Coach. Pieces made for outlets have the letter Y in front of the style number on the tag.

Ralph Lauren

It’s all about the brand name. “Chaps,” “Lauren by Ralph Lauren” and “Polo Ralph Lauren” are made for outlets and lower-end stores such as Kohl’s.

If you’re not sure, ask

You may not know if those Nikes are made for the outlet or not, but the people who work at the outlet definitely do (or at least should LOL). Ask.

Parting words: be aware

Multiple consumer references say that roughly 80 to 90% of clothing found at outlets is made specifically for outlets. Granted, some people might not mind paying a lesser price for less quality, but others would rather know if that ski parka they’re buying is just leftover from last year vs. made like crap. If you’re in the latter group, be aware.

References: The Krazy Coupon Lady, Styleforum, Consumer Reports

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


MikeL January 29, 2021 - 5:17 pm

Tumi is a great example… Although SOME stuff you’ll find in a Tumi outlet is overstocked or discontinued items. Today, items stuff found in their outlet stores are cheaper versions… You’ll notice the cheaper versions of backpacks and luggage will not have the Tumi recognizable tag where you embroider your initials.

DaninMCI January 29, 2021 - 5:46 pm

This is a good blog post. The Outletbound site is missing most of the true factory outlets like the Patagonia stores, etc. I’ve never been able to find a good source for true factory stores, many companies still have them and you won’t find them at the “Outlet Malls” usually.

Christian January 29, 2021 - 8:10 pm

Super interesting stuff. Thanks.


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