Friday, March 28, 2008

The finer points of factory outlet shopping

Ahhh yes ... who isn't up for a good bargain in a time where consumer confidence has been rather uncertain lately?

Those who are willing to brave a turbulent economy (i.e. a sagging dollar, a credit crunch, a recession that either is on its way or already here, depending on your point of view) need only look at the factory outlet shopping center as an oasis for shoppers thirsting for what's on sale.

The March 27 grand opening of the Houston Premium Outlets in Cypress, Texas, is the latest "in" thing to hit the Houston area. True to the concept of "doing it big" in this state, shoppers did not disappoint: They came out in droves.

Get this ... As I approached the factory outlets, traffic off Highway 290 began slowing down about a half-mile before I got there, as cars eventually waited to find a space in a vast parking area surrounding the outlets. Fortunately, the flow did not come to a standstill at all, but the magnitude of cars in the lots -- easily in the hundreds -- was in itself an impressive sight.

After parking my car and walked in to the shopping area (which surprisingly took only a few minutes in spite of the traffic), I immediately saw that the layout is similar to Round Rock Premium Outlets outside the state's capital in Austin.

After a quick look at the list of stores here in Cypress, I formulate a quick plan about which stores I want to visit, what I want to buy, and an idea of how much I want to spend. On this day, the grand opening, a pair of shoes would be nice.

At this point, I'll share some fundamentals about factory outlet shopping:

  • Assess what you already have in your wardrobe.
  • It's easy to spend, spend, spend when the "on sale" signs are at every store. So psychologically, you think you're saving money though you haven't spent any money yet. Having a budget in place keeps you grounded to the reality of what you're actually spending.
  • Treat the factory outlets as if you're shopping at any supermarket. Have a list of items (and relevant coupons) prepared beforehand. Take a walk through the entire complex before settling on what you want to buy. Prioritizing what you want will help you stick to your budget.
  • And most of all: Just as it's not advisable to shop for food when you're hungry, do not shop for clothes impulsively. Purchasing merchandise that has been marked down adds up quickly.

    That said, I navigated the dozens of outlet stores in the complex and hundreds of adults and children walking from store to store. I focus mainly on the sneaker stores, Adidas, Puma, Nike, Reebok and Converse, all of which have competitive sale offers on athletic wear. "Buy one pair of shoes, get another pair 50 percent off," or "40 percent off men's and women's wear," depending on the store.

    Having surveyed all these stores in the Houston Premium Outlets, I settled on a pair of Pumas that were half off on the clearance rack. These shoes looked like driving shoes, with a flat sole with no heel, and a chocolate brown leather upper. I got what I wanted, spent a little over $50, and downshifted to window shopping the rest of the way.

    I spent about an hour walking through more than 100 stores, darting in and out of the ones I was interested in to shop. It's refreshing to see confident consumers coming away with significant hauls of goods, knowing they got a bang for their buck.

    For those who are on a budget, targeting your stores and then sticking to what you're looking for requires developing discipline and a willingness to walk away if you don't find exactly what you want.

    Happy hunting for bargains!
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