Outlets vs. Retail: The Winners Chart

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Shopping Lists

The combined total for our holiday and summer shopping expeditions came to $4,146.58.

Similar items at the retail mall cost a combined total of $6,210.03.


Our holiday purchases at the outlet mall cost us 29.4 percent less than similar purchases at the retail mall. Our summertime outlet buys cost 34.7 percent less. Combined, we netted a savings of right around 33 percent for both shopping trips.


Fewer colors and styles; picked-over merchandise.

More colors and styles; deeper stock on non-sale merchandise.


Retail malls offer a broader selection of goods overall and more opportunity to find out-of-stock items at another store.


Varies between and within brands

More consistent quality


While many outlet goods offer the same quality as retail, some are made slightly more cheaply.


Seemingly constant

Sporadic and seasonal


While retail malls sometimes have better deals, outlet malls have more sales and offer deeper discounts.


VIP clubs, e-mail subscriptions, and in-store distribution

Some brands offer occasional coupons, usually through e-mail subscriptions and membership programs.


More frequent coupons and more of them

Gift Cards

Available at most outlet stores

Available at all retail stores


Retail malls win by a thin margin, because a few outlet chains don't offer gift cards.

Return Policies

Similar to retail and more generous during the holidays. Merchandise at a few outlet chains, including Restoration Hardware and L'Occitane, is final sale only.

Most are between 30 and 90 days for unused merchandise with receipt. Some department stores are more lax, and most are flexible with holiday returns.


Retail stores take this category by a hair, due to a small percentage of final-sale-only outlet chains.


Typically located in out-of-the-way areas outside city centers

Typically located in downtown and suburban hubs


Retail malls are easily accessible for most shoppers, while an outlet mall is more often a dedicated trip.


Made-for-outlet clothing is slightly lower quality than retail. Post-sale pricing is lower, and basics like T-shirts and boxers are cheap.

Clothing is thicker, with finer finishing. Selection is larger. Pricing is higher, but catching a good sale can even the playing field.


Retail merchandise is higher fashion and higher quality, and although we saw substantial savings, prices sometimes don't differ as much as you'd think.

Banana Republic

Apparel is generally somewhat inferior to retail. There are definitely bargains to be had, but may you have to hunt, and not everything is a deal.

Clothing is better quality, but pricing is higher overall. Many retail items are dry clean only, while outlet items can be machine washed.


Retail has the edge due to higher-end products and trendier looks. Despite the money saved, outlet clothing may not be worth a special trip.


Made-for-outlet clothing usually consists of modified retail lines from previous seasons. While sales can be good, many say retail items are cheaper when caught on sale.

Better fabrics and attention to detail. Clothing washes and wears better overall. Frequent sales and coupons often negate outlet savings.


Retail locations put out slightly better products and often have better sales. That said, the outlet is a good place to snag pieces from previous collections that you missed or your child has outgrown.


Selection is much broader and includes separates and bigger sizes that aren't available at retail. Great sales and frequent coupons.

Prices are sometimes higher and sometimes lower. It can be hard to find separates, such as jeans and T-shirts, or sizes over 24 months.


Discounts, regular coupon distribution, and a huge array of options make Carter's outlet locations the best choice for parents.

Kate Spade

Outlet bags are eye-catching, but simplified, with less embellishment. Lots of retail liquidation to sort through for on-sale steals. Boutique atmosphere.

Most shoppers have to rely on high-end department stores without that boutique feel. Prices are higher and sale stock cycles out quickly.


Quality products, a New York vibe, and heavily discounted retail showpieces make this outlet worth a trip.


Made-for-outlet bags are simpler and feature less detail but are still high quality. Styling is classic. Liquidation bags are a huge bargain, though selection is limited.

Styles are more luxe and modern. Bags have more embellishment and texture. Prices are steeper.


The uber-trendy will prefer retail styles, but others will find plenty to love for less money at the outlet.

Restoration Hardware

Some good bargains on odds and ends, such as a single top sheet or damaged furniture. Sales are final.

Top-of-the-line products in an array of colors and styles. Generous return policy.


The outlet makes for a fun treasure hunt, but buy at your own risk.


Discontinued lotions and soaps at reduced prices and best sellers for full price. All items are final sale.

Full collections, as opposed to the hodgepodge at the outlet. The return policy is stricter than most, but at least there is one.


The outlet offers good prices on phased-out products, but the inventory is unpredictable and all sales are final.


Comparable or better quality than retail. Pricing is not significantly lower and luggage collections are different, so it can be hard to compare.

Different collections are available and products are finished to a slightly lower standard.


Given that there's not much price variance and quality differences aren't obvious, the outlet probably isn't worth a special trip.

Le Creuset

Stoneware isn't much cheaper than retail, but the colors and selection are overwhelming. "Second quality" cast-iron cookware represents mouthwatering cost savings.

Retail cast-iron cookware is blemish-free but also as much as twice the money. The selection of both cast-iron and stoneware pieces is limited.


The cosmetic flaws in second-quality pieces are hard to find and do not affect cooking integrity. Go for the stoneware selection alone, and check out the seasonal colors available for lower prices.


Most merchandise is open stock. Pricing is lower overall and cookware comes with the same limited lifetime guarantee as retail. Expect to see some minor dings and scratches.

More options when it comes to cookware sets, rather than one-off purchases. Pricing is higher, though discounts often apply. Sold through department and kitchen specialty stores, so salespeople aren't as knowledgeable.


The selection is broad and you can get deals on overstock cookware sets and cosmetically flawed pieces. The staff is knowledgeable and will process returns based on the brand's lifetime guarantee.


Significant discounts on shoes from past seasons are the main draw. Workout clothes and other athletic apparel may not be much cheaper than retail.

The latest shoe styles and apparel with up-to-date colors and technology. Shoe prices are higher, but apparel often costs mere dollars more, or even less if it's on sale.


With apparel prices a toss-up, the savings on shoes give the outlet the edge.

Tommy Bahama

High-quality retail pieces from previous seasons. Prices are not rock-bottom, but you can expect about a 30 percent discount over retail.

Styling is perhaps more current, but this brand's traditional tropical look isn't super trendy to begin with.


The outlet charges 30 percent to 50 percent less for retail-quality clothes and swimwear that don't look dated relative to the current collection.


Some apparel is retail liquidation, while other items are made-for-outlet. We didn't notice a significant quality difference. Savings vary from item to item.

Retail pieces are sometimes higher and sometimes lower than at the outlet, depending on sales. Quality appears similar on initial inspection.


Though avid swimmers and beach-goers may demand the latest styles and top-quality construction, many are likely willing to sacrifice a little for the outlet's (usually) cheaper prices.

Nine West

Lower-quality construction is apparent at first glance. Made-for-outlet shoes and bags use less leather, incorporate more plastic, and lack more elaborate details and finishing.

Prices are higher, but you get more for the money you spend. Product quality is visibly superior.


We're all for a fun pair of cheap shoes, but outlet prices aren't as low as it seems like they should be, considering the quality differences.

Sunglass Hut

Selection is limited, and only a portion of the merchandise is discounted from retail. We frequently found clearance buys an odd fit.

A wide array of designers, better store organization, and more current styles. Much of the merchandise costs the same as at outlet.


The retail store provides a better shopping experience, hands down, and outlet offerings are hit-or-miss.


Lots of quality gear at an average discount of a 37 percent -- one of the highest we encountered. Styles nearly match retail.

Selection is a little better, but not enough to compensate for the price difference.


Better bargains and nearly identical gear and apparel.