Turn a trip to the outlet mall into a shopping success with these expert secrets.

By Kristine Gill
Updated February 20, 2019
Outlet mall shopping secrets woman with shopping bags
Credit: Burak Karademir/Getty Images

If you’re driving all the way to an outlet mall for an afternoon of shopping, the plan is probably to save as much as possible while you shop. But did you know there are ways to get better prices on those outlet brands you love? These tips will help you strategize before your next outlet mall trip to snag the merchandise you want at the lowest prices available.

Outlet mall shopping secrets woman with shopping bags
Credit: Burak Karademir/Getty Images

Get announcements and coupons

Unless you shop at your nearby outlet mall regularly, Stacey Garska Rodriguez of The Soccer Mom Blog doesn’t suggest signing up for the mall’s email blasts or mailing lists.

“We all get a ton of junk mail, so you probably don’t need to be on a mailing list year-round,” she says. Instead, sign up a couple weeks in advance of a planned shopping trip to scope out relevant deals. Garska Rodriguez also recommends visiting the outlet mall’s site to check for additional coupons.

You can also go directly to the source by signing up for notifications with the outlet arm of your favorite store, says Lisa Wagner of The Outlet Resource Group, which studies trends in the outlet industry.

“They’ll send you texts to get an additional 20 or 25 percent off your purchase, as long as you’re part of their club,” Wagner says.

If you forget to do your prep work, blogger Elif Mamakli of The Box Queen suggest stopping by customer service to grab any available coupons before stepping foot in a store.

RELATED: 6 Surprising Brands That Have Outlets (and Where to Find Them)

Capitalize on sales

Outlets are great because most items are already marked down, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep an eye out for sales.

“Traditional sale weekends are great times to score deals at outlet malls because that's when they do big markdowns,” Garska Rodriguez says. “It's worth fighting the crowds to save so much money.”

Of course, not all sales will be advertised, so Mamakli likes to head to the clearance rack first to see what’s marked even further down. Some of the best deals she’s seen have been on out-of-season items; think sunglasses in the winter and rain boots in summer.

Plan your visit

Garska Rodriguez likes to plan her shopping trips to beat the crowds. She suggests going early in the day and parking at the back of the complex. Use a directory map to plot your stops along the way.

“We usually avoid trying to park near the front, as that's where everyone stops first,” she says.

Wagner says that most outlets will start their deals for the week on a Wednesday, so you can go as early as then to beat the weekend crowds but get the same deals.

Mamakli likes to find out when new shipments are expected from each store by simply asking the salespersons who are working that day. If you find out it’s a Tuesday or Thursday, you can plan accordingly so the selection isn’t picked over when you arrive.

RELATED: Shopping Secrets Retailers Don’t Want You To Know

Capitalize on rewards

Several retailers will honor rewards and points systems from their flagship store credit cards at the outlet stores, so you could get extra savings that way, Mamakli says.

But Garska Rodriguez warns not to open a credit card just to get those points. Opening and closing multiple accounts can hurt your credit score, and so can an inquiry for each new card.

“For that reason, I only recommend applying for a credit card to a store that you shop at frequently and probably will for years to come,” she says.

If you don’t have a card to one of these stores and you don’t want one, you might still get benefits from your regular credit or debit card; check with your credit card company or bank to find out.

Check the tags

Certain brands are known for creating separate lines of clothing that shoppers say turn out to be lower quality. Banana Republic, for example, adds three small diamonds to its outlet tags. Mamakli says that some of these outlet items end up falling apart sooner. A quick Google search for the brand you’re shopping will tell you whether an item has a specialty tag and if other shoppers recommend that you avoid it.

But don’t let that deter you from buying those pieces altogether. Instead, Mamakli suggests shopping those outlets for trendy pieces that won’t be popular next season, so it won’t matter too much if their lifespans aren’t long.

Reading price tags is also important when it comes to savings, Garska Rodriguez says. If shirts are buy two, get one free, you should tally the total and divide by the number of shirts to see whether that’s actually a discount. In some cases, you can get a single shirt at the flagship store or the outlet itself for a lower price.

RELATED: 7 Secrets to Shopping Smart at Anthropologie

Review the return policy

Many stores within outlet malls exist to move products, and so a strict return policy is part of the deal. Make sure to ask what the policy is before you buy. But Mamakli points out that if you happen to live far from your closest outlet, you might be reluctant to drive back for a refund, even if they’re offered. To solve that problem, try everything on before you buy.

Prepare for a long day

You wouldn’t wear heels to a marathon, so don’t wear them to an outlet mall. Wagner says shoppers tend to spend more time browsing an outlet mall than they might spend in other shopping venues, visiting more stores and even stopping for lunch before heading home. Plus, outlet malls tend to cover more space than a strip mall or in-town shopping center, so prepare for a lot of walking.

Mamakli suggests comfortable shoes. Donning a dress instead of pants and a top can also make it easier to try on multiple outfits throughout the day, she says.

And Garska Rodriguez says drink up. Bringing water along and a couple snacks can help you stay on your feet all day.