Get the best deals at outlet malls

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When was the last time you went to hit the outlet malls for a shopping excursion?

In the metro area, there are four options: Calhoun Premium Outlets, North Georgia Premium Outlets, Tanger Outlet Center and the newest, the Outlet Shoppes at Atlanta.

The October issue of ShopSmart Magazine offers a few new reasons to shop outlet malls and some ways to get the best deals.

Traditional malls are struggling — according to ShopSmart, only one has opened in the U.S. since 2006 — but the outlets are expanding. In 2013, Tanger, the grandfather of outlet malls, opened 11 new centers in the U.S. and Canada. Outlet Shoppes of Atlanta (not a Tanger Mall), opened last year in Woodstock.

In the past, most of the outlets were in remote areas and required a long drive. Now that traditional malls no longer demand a certain radius of distance, many outlets have come closer in town.

Another update to outlet shopping is that almost 90 percent of the merchandise you find there is made exclusively for the outlet store. This is good and bad. Good because you are getting current season items instead of last season’s overstock from the retail stores. Bad because some of that made-for-outlets stuff may be poor quality (more on this later).

Still, don’t assume all made-for-outlet clothing is bad quality. Lower costs at outlets are more likely because of lower costs on research and development since outlet merchandise is created based on items that have already proven popular in the full-price store.

In addition, more luxury brands are now in the outlet mall mix such as Celine, Helmut Lang, Jimmy Choo and more. Outlet stores have become just another way for high-end brands to reach a new customer without distracting from their premium lines.

Of course, while you will still find low prices on brand name and designer goods at outlet malls, you may also find some shoddy workmanship. ShopSmart took along a professional garment inspector who found plenty of hidden defects in outlet mall merchandise. Here are some of her observations:

Made for outlet merchandise may not have the same detailing as the branded merchandise in full price retail stores. Ask a salesperson if the item you are interested in was made for the outlet.

Poorly made outlet garments often lack a sewn-in lining. These are good items to skip. Also avoid garments with uneven seams, loose threads and other un-fixable flaws.

A tour through some outlet shops revealed good buys at Calvin Klein, Ann Taylor, J. Crew, Neiman Marcus Last Call and Saks Off 5th. But Calvin Klein and Ann Taylor also had some poorly made misses, so be sure to examine any single garment carefully. Clothing from Banana Republic and Max Studio outlets got poor marks for snags and fabrics that aren’t made to last.

So give outlets a go and as always, look for coupons to help you save. Carefully examine any potential purchases and negotiate for a better price if you think it is worth it.

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