Does shopping at outlet malls actually save you money?

Updated on 14 September 2018 | 1 Comment

Factory outlets and shopping centres promise huge discounts compared to the high street, but product lines and prices often fail to live up the hype.

Outlet shopping centres promise discounts of up to 70% but just how easy is it to bag a bargain in these places?

There’s no shortage of outlet centres around, from Bicester Village in Oxfordshire and Clarks Village in Somerset to McArthurGlen Designer Outlets which has six locations across the UK including Cheshire Oaks, Swindon and York.

As you might expect, I do love a bargain, and while I was in Manchester last week I popped into the Lowry Outlet at Salford Quays.

It has over 80 stores with a mix of designer and high street including M&S, Gap, Molton Brown, the Body Shop and Cadbury.

Get rewarded for spending with a cashback credit card

Cheap chocolate…..or was it?

Lured in by the prospect of Cadbury chocolate at cheap prices I headed inside, only to find the prices of its big 200g size bars of Dairy Milk, Whole Nut and Fruit & Nut, didn’t seem particularly good value.

These 200g size bars were flagged up at £2.49 each, or ‘2 for £4’, yet you can buy the same size bars for £2 each at Tesco and Asda right now and there’s even a ‘2 for £3’ deal at Asda.   

Cadbury chocolate (image: Shutterstock)

Ok, maybe the fact that the ‘outlet’ version was charging more than the high street was an isolated incident due to some special offer in the supermarket.

Savvy shoppers may not have much to gain

Next, I headed for the Gap outlet, where I snapped up a new pair of my favourite skinny trousers with 30% off.  Sounds like a bargain, except that I’ve bagged the same discount buying the same style from Gap’s own website during ‘flash sales’ or using discount codes.

If you’re a ‘savvy shopper’ and regularly sign up for newsletters from your favourite website or track down voucher codes you may not have much to gain when it comes to outlet shopping.  

“Some items will be as cheap online or with vouchers”, says Catherine Shuttleworth, CEO of ‘Savvy’, a retail and shopper marketing agency

Get up 28 months interest-free shopping with a 0% purchase credit card

High street leftovers or specially made stock?

“These outlets are a place to move ‘end of line’ product for some retailers and brands.  They usually stock different product to the high street, especially with clothing”, says Shuttleworth.

So don’t expect to walk in and spot the same jacket you saw at full price on the high street last week now with 50% off.

Graham Soult, Retail Consultant from says goods on sale are typically “last season, or lines that are no longer sold in the main store”.

“In some cases, goods may be seconds, like the John Lewis outlet at McArthurGlen in Swindon where items may be sold at a discount because they’re slightly damaged”.

And with other high street names, like Next, Soult says ‘outlet’ stores may stock ranges that are “created exclusively for the outlet market and have a lower price point than their normal range”.

The big-name businesses disappearing from Britain's high streets

Know your brands to bag savings

If you want to bag a bargain, Soult says it’s all about, “understanding the brand”. 

He cites Gap as a brand that regularly discounts its merchandise which means any savings in outlet malls may not seem particularly enticing.

GAP may not be the best brand to purchase at an outlet store (image: Shutterstock)

“However, with Joules, which is a popular ‘high end’ brand, it doesn’t have the same ‘discounting’ persona, which means you may be able to get a good bargain from an outlet store.”

When it comes to luring you through the doors, “retailers splash the biggest discounts they have”, says Soult. This is why while the headline banners boast ‘up to 70% off’, whereas in reality some stores may only be offering reductions of 30%.

And if you are bargain hunting, it’s worth doing your homework to check the selection of stores within the outlet centre. 

Soult says the Swindon branch of McArthurGlen is one of the best outlet malls as it’s got a wide mix of stores, which includes the likes of Osprey, Kurt Geiger, Jack Wills, Fossil, Calvin Klein and Converse along with typical high street names like Next, Body Shop, Clarks and Monsoon.

Get rewarded for spending with a cashback credit card

Outlet versus online

Unless you’ve got an outlet mall on your doorstep, you’re going to have to factor in fuel costs when working out any potential savings you could make.

However, in some cases you may not need to leave home as shops including Clarks, Argos, Lakeland and Currys all have online ‘outlet’ stores.

Let the outlet store come to you (image: PA)

While you may pay delivery costs, (depending on how much you spend), this can work out cheaper than the cost of a day out pounding the pavement at an outlet centre.

The hidden cost of outlet malls

Alongside the stores, there’s often a tempting supply of coffee bars and cafes, which can mean you quite literally ‘eat’ into any savings you make on shopping bargains.

On a trip to Bicester Village, a friend and I came back empty handed on the shopping front, however, we’d shelled out, not just on petrol, but around £15 each on coffees, sandwiches and cakes during the day’s bargain hunting expedition.  

How to find the cheapest petrol and diesel prices near you

Check the ‘returns’ policy

Check before buying.  Most high street stores have generous ‘goodwill’ policies and will often exchange or refund unwanted purchases, but this may not the case with their ‘outlet’ counterpart. 

And even if refunds are given, it may mean a return trip to the outlet store, instead of popping back to the high street version.

Returning unwanted or faulty goods: your rights


Be the first to comment

Do you want to comment on this article? You need to be signed in for this feature

Copyright © All rights reserved.