“how to find the best cheap products” — kiplinger


Nothing says "hello, sunshine" like a sporty pair of shades. Between clumsiness, forgetfulness, and rough handling, it can be hard to hang on to a pair of sunglasses from one year to the next.

So we compared goods and prices at outlet and retail Sunglass Hut locations.

Because much of the selection at the chain's outlet store consisted of regular-priced merchandise, we headed straight to the clearance section. There we found polarized, plastic framed Ray-Ban sunglasses on sale for $144.98; a comparable pair of classic, polarized wayfarers at the mall shop was selling for $199.95. A pair of discount Coach shades, tinted brown with the Coach grid on the arms, was selling for $114.98 at the outlet while Coach's Emma style, either in black with a grey grid, or brown tint with a brown grid, were $138.00 at retail. Ralph sunglasses, by Ralph Lauren, originally priced at $99.75 were going for $74.78 at the outlet; a similar pair of Ralph by Ralph Lauren carried a $124.95 price tag at retail.

Many of our favorite styles at the Sunglass Hut outlet
were no cheaper than retail price.

The day we stopped in, the Sunglass Hut outlet was running a "buy one pair of clearance glasses, get another clearance pair free." Although we found some OK deals, proceed with caution. Only some sunglasses at the outlet are discounted -- the rest go for full price. Many of the clearance styles at the outlet were uninspired in design or didn't particularly flatter the face. There were a few standouts, but most of the designs we liked were full price and many were also available at the retail location. In the end, it seemed that the quality of the outlet sunglasses didn't suffer, only the attractiveness.

Hiking Gear.

Venturing into the great outdoors, whether on a family camping expedition or a local day hike, is an enjoyable and inexpensive summer activity. Bringing the right gear can make the difference between memorable and miserable. We glanced through the racks at the outlet Columbia stores and checked online to determine how far the cost of family hiking basics would set us back.

Clothing was the primary order of business. We liked the SilverRidge II convertible pants, which turn from lightweight hiking pants to shorts thanks to the zipper at each knee. The men's pants were going for $44.90 at the outlet store, the boys' version for $24.90, and the similar women's Silver Ridge convertible straight leg pant was also $44.90. Columbia's website priced the men's Silver Ridge II convertible pant at $55.00, the boys' version at $40.00, and the women's at $60.00.

We were impressed with the hiking gear at the Columbia outlet.

A women's Psych to Hike button-down shirt was $34.90 at the outlet store compared with $55.00 for the plaid Silver Ridge button-down and $50.00 for solid colors at the online store. The outlet was also selling a women's Benton Springs full-zip fleece for $29.90 that cost $48.00 retail; the men's Steens Mountain full-zip fleece adhered to the same pricing pattern. A toddler girl/boy Benton Springs fleece sold for $17.50 at the outlet and $24.00 online. Men could pick up a Tectonic Softshell windproof hybrid jacket $69.99, marked down from $99.90, at the outlet or pay $130.00 at Columbia's online venue. A Silver Ridge moisture-wicking tee for boys cost $12.90 at the outlet and $20.00 at retail.

For day hikes, we found a black and orange Trail Grinder backpack with breathable mesh straps and back with an outlet price of $109.95 versus $139.00 retail. Select women's Shasta la Vista hiking shoes sold for $30.00 on clearance at the outlet while updated colors of the same style were fetching $100.00 online.

The spread between outlet and retail prices on Columbia's stock ranged wildly. We saw the same or similar products bearing prices that differed by as much as 70 percent or as little as 20 percent. Although items consistently cost less at the outlet, quality at least looked equal to the online offerings, making the Columbia outlet the venue of choice for cheap hiking gear.

Review continues below

Running Gear.

Whether you're a triathlete, a charity event participant, or a novice exerciser, chances are your running frequency increases as the temperatures rise. If you're prowling around for new workout wear, the Nike outlet is a good starting point. We found similar merchandise at Foot Locker and Macy's retail operations.

Women's running shorts were 2 for $40 at the Nike outlet.

A complete outfit for men at Nike included a pair of black and grey Dri-Fit running shorts for $29.99, a long-sleeve black moisture-wicking shirt for $29.99, and a pair of men's Air Max 2011 shoes for $129.99 (a cheaper choice was the Zoom Vomero+ 6 shoes for $99.99). The comparable clothing package at Macy's cost $26.99 (originally $32.00) for Dri-Fit running shorts, $60.00 for the Element Dri-Fit half-zip running shirt or $19.99 (reduced from $25.00) for a Pro Core Dri-Fit short-sleeve crew shirt. Nike Air Max 2012 shoes were available at Foot Locker for $170.00, which also carried the Vomero+ 6 shoe for $130.00.

We priced out similar running gear for women. The Nike outlet featured a pair of running shorts for $24.99, or $40.00 for two. A Dri-Fit running tee was selling for $27.99 and a Dri-Fit running bra tank was priced at $39.99. Women's Nike Zoom Vomero+ 6 shoes ran at $99.99. Back at Macy's, Nike Tempo running shorts started at $32.00, a Nike Miller Dri-Fit short-sleeve crew-neck tee was $38.00, and a sleeveless racerback knit tank, once $48.00, was reduced to $37.99. Foot Locker at the mall carried the women's Nike Vomero+ 6 for $130.00.

Boys' shoes, like the Dart 8 ($34.99), T-Run 2 Alt ($19.99 on sale), and an older style of Jordans ($39.99), lined the walls at the Nike outlet. This location also stocked lots of choices for girls, such as the Impax Renegade, on sale for $34.99, and the Nike Advantage, for $29.99. Foot Locker was retailing a youth-sized Nike Air Jordan for $49.99, originally $70.00; Free Run 2.0 youth running shoes started at $75.00; and the youth-sized Nike LunarGlide3 was reduced to $59.99 from $82.00.

We walked away from Nike with outlet deals that beat the retail offerings, but not by a mile. The shoes offered the best savings by far, but there was a lot of play in actual savings depending on the style. Athletic shoes from retail seasons past were of the same quality as those sold at the mall, just slightly behind the times in styling. Clothing construction seemed to be good overall. Some pieces were made specifically for the outlet and others were overstock goods from retail, but the differences between the two weren't obvious to us. Some T-shirts and workout gear, for instance, were perhaps less cutting-edge than current retail but fine for hitting the gym.

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