For many people, the most wonderful – and popular – time of the year to shop is the holidays. But is the Christmas season really the best time to hit up your local outlet mall and brave the crowds for a good deal?
What You Need to Know About Seasonal Shopping
Consider the fact that up to 28% of shoppers start their Christmas shopping well before Halloween.1 By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, 62% of shoppers have already begun purchasing their Christmas presents.
An estimated 70% of shoppers plan to buy Christmas gifts that cost roughly $100.
When you do the math and take into account that most shoppers will buy gifts for 3 to 10 people during the holidays, it could add up to close to $1000 per person!
The real question is: Can you afford it? The even better question is: Do you want to?
This is precisely why so many people are driving straight past the traditional shopping mall and heading to a factory outlet center down the road. Shoppers hunting for bargains in any season will consider an outlet mall first to save anywhere from 50% to 70% on the total retail price of a product.
And the selection at your average outlet mall isn’t too shabby. An outlet mall in any given state is likely to have more than 100 stores with leading retail and designer brand selections that may include Kate Spade, Coach, Banana Republic, Gap, Nike, and much more.
Clearly, heading to the outlets during the holidays could save you half or more of your expected Christmas shopping budget. But is the Christmas season really the best time of the year to shop at an outlet mall? Read on to find out…
What Time of Year Should You Shop at an Outlet Mall?
When assessing the best season for outlet shopping, it all hinges on savings. Most expert shoppers recommend hitting up the outlets at the start of a new year, in January, when already discounted stores have counted their inventory and marked down winter clothes.
Any time a season changes, you’re likely to find rock-bottom deals at a factory outlet.
Of course, this means that you have to be flexible in your shopping habits to purchase winter wear in early spring and spring fashions in the summer season. But if you know what you’re looking for and plan to stock up for the next year, you could take advantage of even deeper discounts off of already marked down products.
Beyond season, there is a recommended time of day to shop at a factory outlet. Retailers advise shopping early in the morning on a weekday to beat the crowds and have a better chance of finding a one-of-a-kind deal.
Nonetheless, when it comes to outlet shopping, the same rule holds true. If you want the best deals on already discounted products, you have to be willing to purchase merchandise in the off-season. Retailers will mark down reduced garments and products as the seasons change to clear their shelves and make room for new inventory. It’s as simple as that.
Plan Your Outlet Excursion by the Season: Sales to Watch for by Month
Instead of visiting a local outlet mall on a whim, it can literally pay to prepare in advance and create a plan of attack like a well-seasoned shopper.
Here is a month-by-month look at the best retail sales to plan your next outlet trip around:
- January: Known for white sales with great deals on pillows, pillow cases, bedding, and sheets.
- February: Most likely to find seasonally discounted perfume, jewelry, and lingerie around Valentine’s Day; don’t miss annual Presidents’ Day sales in mid-February.
- March: Look for winter clothing markdowns as spring clothes arrive with discounts on sweaters, gloves, hats, coats, and boots.
- April: Check out discounted electronics and gift sets for pre-graduation sales.
- May: Plan your month around annual Memorial Day sales that start on Friday and last through the entire weekend; think discounted laptops, flat screen TVs, and electronics.
- June: Discounts on hardware and tools for Father’s Day, as well as cookware for early wedding season.
- July: Best time to make a major purchase with deep discounts on living and dining room furniture, sofas, and couches; annual Fourth of July sales will advertise reduced summer clothing and accessories.
- August: Back to school sales advertise bargains on school supplies, laptops, and kids’ clothing; discounted patio furniture and camping gear may be available as the summer ends.
- September: Even greater savings on large appliances like washing machines and refrigerators as stores clear out their old summer inventory.
- October: Annual Columbus Day sales offer better deals on recliners, mattresses, and furniture; preholiday sales begin.
- November: Early holiday shopping discounts available with Veteran’s Day sales and major Black Friday sales the day after Thanksgiving.
- December: Christmas sales run rampant through December 25 with markdowns at the last minute.
Based on 2012 shopping figures, here are a few guidelines to take into account when making a big purchase around the holiday season:2
- Buy electronics in late November or mid-December for the best deals.
- Buy apparel at the last minute, from December 17-25th.
- Save music, movie, and book purchases until after December 25 for a bigger discount.
- Buy toys and games before Thanksgiving or early December at the latest.
- December 20 was the best day for jewelry discounts in 2012.
- December 2 was the best day for cosmetic discounts in 2012.
How to Get Your Money’s Worth When Outlet Shopping Year-Round
There’s no question that you’re going to find an exceptional deal if you shop at an outlet mall strategically, on a weekday and in the off-season.
But to shave even more off the total price of an item, you can put these tips into practice the next time you shop:
- Read price tags carefully. An irregular garment may have a sliced or marked tag, meaning that there could be a cosmetic issue or malfunction. In this case, proceed with caution; inspect a garment carefully before buying and find out about the store’s return policy.
- Find out what an item is worth. Before making a major purchase, do your research online to find out exactly what a certain product brand costs. This is the only true way to know just how much of a discount you should expect when bargain-hunting for the best deal.
- Shop at an exclusive outlet store. If a name brand retail store has factory outlets in every outlet mall in the country, like Gap or Banana Republic, you better believe that their marked down merchandise is more likely to be damaged, discontinued, or defective in some way. Shopping at a retailer with fewer outlet locations gives you better odds of finding a diamond in the rough.
- Sign up for sales alerts. On top of the many seasonal sales listed above, most outlet stores will provide frequent shoppers with the opportunity to sign up for special VIP membership or exclusive sales alerts via email. By shopping on sale days only, you’ll have hundreds of deeply discounted items at your fingertips to choose from.
As one final word of caution, if you’re brave enough to shop outlet stores on a major shopping day like Black Friday, watch out! Every seasoned shopper has their own share of horror stories, like being trampled in line to buy the hottest toy at Christmas or waiting in line for hours in the freezing cold for a favorite store to open at 3 AM.
The good news is that shopping at an outlet can save you both time and money. If you have what it takes to shop at a factory outlet on Black Friday, you’ll have even more cash to spend on Christmas gifts for the kids.
- “‘Tis the Season for Shopping [infographic].” Daily Infographic | A New Infographic Every Day | Data Visualization, Information Design and Infographics. Web. 1 Mar. 2013.
- “2012′s Best Days for Holiday Shopping [infographic].” Daily Infographic | A New Infographic Every Day | Data Visualization, Information Design and Infographics. Web. 1 Mar. 2013.