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Outlet Malls and Factory Stores: Deals or No Deals?

The markdowns may look fantastic, but how much are you really saving?

Beware of Inferior Quality Merchandise
Make sure you're comparing apples to apples when it comes to the quality of the merchandise as well as the price. A study by Consumer Reports found that some manufacturers produce lower quality versions of their products to sell at outlets, even though nearly 80 percent of the outlet shoppers they surveyed were unaware of any differences. Compare exact model numbers of electronics and appliances, and carefully check things such as fabric quality/content and stitching on apparel items.

Ask for a Further Discount
A number of my Miser Advisers have confirmed that a little haggling can pay off when shopping at outlets. If an item is damaged or the last one on display — or if you're interested in buying more than one of the same item — ask to speak to a manager or supervisor, and politely ask if he or she can do any better on the price. One Miser Adviser reported getting an additional 50 percent off when she bought the last bread-making machine they had on display, simply by asking and pointing out that the box had been opened. "That's a lot of dough," she told me with a wink. Here are some more tips on how you can negotiate a better price on just about anything.

Check Warranties on Factory-Second Items
One of the reasons I don't shop at factory outlets so much anymore is that fewer and fewer of them seem to carry truly factory-second merchandise. Apparently, underwear manufacturers are no longer mis-stitching their elastic waistbands as often as they did when I was kid, and I kind of miss that. I liked saving a bundle on a usable but slightly irregular item; I viewed it as owning a one-of-a-kind and it made me feel special. When you do still find factory-second items — as well as refurbished tools, appliances and electronics — check the warranties carefully to see if you have any recourse should the product have problems down the road.

Jeff Yeager is the author of The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches and The Cheapskate Next Door. His website is www.UltimateCheapskate.com and you can friend him on Facebook at JeffYeagerUltimateCheapskate or follow him on Twitter.

Updated October 2012

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