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Jockey and Carters Among Top Scorers in Consumer Reports Outlet Stores Survey

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(SOURCE:Jockey, 10-04-2011)

Experts compare quality of outlet store goods head-to-head with the brand’s regular retail products

YONKERS, N.Y., Oct. 4, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- With the promise of big savings on quality name brands, outlet stores are booming in this sour economy. But are they delivering on that promise? To find out, Consumer Reports surveyed 17,753 readers who made nearly 39,000 outlet store visits.

The results reveal the winners and losers among 58 major outlet brands included in Consumer Reports’ survey, which took into account key factors such as value, quality, selection, and service. Consumer Reports also interviewed experts and sent a reporter undercover to buy $2,000 worth of shirts, slacks, socks, sweats, and other items, to examine in its textile labs.

Overall, 60 percent of outlet shoppers said that they were completely or very satisfied with their experience. Respondents gave high marks to a range of stores. Among the top choices: Jockey and Carter’s (clothes, underwear), Harry & David (food), Corningware (kitchenware), Izod and Van Heusen (clothes), and Coach (leather goods and other accessories).

Almost three-quarters of shoppers described the merchandise quality as excellent or very good. About the same percentage rated outlet merchandise equal in quality to the same brands sold at regular stores.  Eleven percent judged outlet goods slightly poorer but said the differences were so insignificant that they were barely noticeable, while 2 percent thought outlet lines were "substantially poorer" than goods sold elsewhere. Specifically, Banana Republic, Brooks Brothers, Gap, J.Crew, and Pottery Barn were cited more than other stores for selling goods inferior to regular store counterparts.

"Decades ago, outlets were venues for manufacturers to unload leftovers and flawed merchandise. That’s not true anymore. Today, much of what you see are goods made exclusively for outlet distribution, typically items that were popular a year or two earlier at retail stores that are now being remade for the outlets at lower price points," said Tod Marks, senior project editor with Consumer Reports.

Consumer Reports puts the merchandise to the test:

Outlet store goods are designed to sell for less than retail goods, so shoppers can’t assume they’re exact copies. When Consumer Reports shopped for look-alikes at outlets and full-price stores, our textile expert confirmed that the outlet versions were tweaked. The regular retail items were usually a trifle better because of construction details or better materials. But in most cases, the outlet versions were fine, and a couple beat their retail version. On several occasions, the outlet version was actually superior.

For example, Consumer Reports purchased a ladies Polo Ralph Lauren classic oxford shirt at retail store for $76.50, and at an outlet for $40. The savings was roughly 48 percent. The quality of both was quite similar. Both shirts were made in China, had similar fabric and construction, plackets and placket finish, and buttons. The only notable difference, was a yellow fabric backing on the outlet shirt’s collar. "It’s a higher-end finish that added a nice touch," our expert said.

"A consumer’s experience may depend on how hard they are on clothes, how finicky they are about styling, or how happy they are saving money.  Our shoppers saved up to 61 percent on outlet items," Marks added.

Shoppers both praised and criticized outlet store prices:

Sixty percent of shoppers surveyed by Consumer Reports said that outlets offered exceptional value, and 30 percent said that prices were much lower than sale prices at regular stores, especially at Coach, Haggar, Izod, Van Heusen, and VF Outlets (the parent company of dozens of apparel brands).

However, the top complaint among respondents about outlet shopping was higher-than-expected prices, cited in one of five store visits. Stores more likely to be called out for high prices: Bose, Calvin Klein, Casual Male XL, Gymboree, J.Crew, Levi’s, Nike, Polo Ralph Lauren, Pottery Barn, Samsonite, and Sunglass Hut.

For more on the test results on the quality comparison of outlet goods, the complete ratings of all 58 outlet stores and more outlet shopping advice visit starting October 4,  or pick up a copy of Consumer Reports the November issue wherever magazines are sold.  

Consumer Reports Outlet Shopping Tips:

For bargain hunters looking to improve their outlet experience and save even more, Consumer Reports offers the following tips:

Go to the center’s management office or call to find out about unadvertised sales.Shop early in the day, when crowds are smaller and merchandise hasn’t been picked over. Dinnertime is another good time to beat the mobs. Crowds tend to be at their worst between noon and 3 p.m.Think twice about shopping during the holidays. Crowds are intense. Outlets do, however, offer special holiday deals. Join shopper programs like Premium Outlets’ VIP Shopper Club (free) or Tanger Club ($10) for exclusive promotions and coupons. Sign up for e-mail alerts and get bonus savings by becoming a fan on sites like Facebook.Seek other discounts. Some centers offer deals for seniors and the military. Go to the center’s website for specifics.

Consumer Reports is the world’s largest independent product-testing organization.  Using its more than 50 labs, auto test center, and survey research center, the nonprofit rates thousands of products and services annually.  Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has over 8 million subscribers to its magazine, website, and other publications.  Its advocacy division, Consumers Union, works for health reform, food and product safety, financial reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace.

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