baby boy uggs The truth about outlet store designer ‘bargains’
Half price Armani suits, 1,400 alligator handbags for 320 and Dunhill blazers with 300 off.. surely the things that shoppers dreams are made of?
Such bargains really do exist, and not only in the sales. Take a trip to almost any of the outlet shopping centres popping up all over Britain and youll find offers to make you salivate.
These out of town malls were originally set up to get rid of last seasons stock (or even slightly damaged seconds) at huge price reductions often over 60 per cent.
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Medium Travel Tote in brown Saffiano leather, 159, Michael Kors, Bicester Village.
But if you think the discounts sound too good to be true, you may be right. A Mail investigation this week has uncovered something that will startle many shoppers: stores are manufacturing lines solely to be sold in outlet stores, and marking as discounted stock items that have never been sold at full price.
We went to Bicester Village in Oxfordshire which, with 130 designer stores, is the most successful outlet in the world. While the annual spend per square foot in a typical UK shopping centre is around 300, here it is nearer 2,000.
World leading brands offer their authentic previous seasons collections with savings of up to 60 per cent, and sometimes more, promises Value Retail, the company operating the village.
Posing as a customer, I visited dozens of stores, quizzing staff about the origins of their stock.
While some, such as Dunhill and Armani, are clear that they only sell stock left over from their main stores, others admit they sell a mixture of last season stock and stock made specially for the outlet. company selling high end womens clothing, handbags and accessories.
In Bicester, theres a note pinned to the counter, barely glanced at by shoppers, that reads: The product assortment in all Coach outlet stores is a mix of past seasons product from our Coach branded stores and new season products made specifically for our Outlet stores.
I ask about a trench coat that is discounted from 360 to 183.20 and am told it is made for the outlet. When I ask how its possible to tell the origin of one item from another, the woman tells me its a secret.
Whats more intriguing, however, is how Coach came up with the discount, given that the coat has never been sold in its London boutique.
A spokesman later tells me: All products.. either have been previously available for purchase at a higher price in other stores in our European network, or have been discounted with reference to a full retail price consistent with Coachs other markets.
In other words, the items may never be sold at full price: the brand simply decides how discounted to label them.
When I subsequently visit Coachs London store in Bond Street I find a similar trench coat on sale for 320. Both are made in China, but the London coat is a thicker cotton with a classy striped ticking lining and better detailing: snazzy shoulder epaulettes and a throat latch to ward off the wind, both of which are missing on the outlet version.
At the luxury label Michael Kors outlet in Bicester, which is heaving with shoppers queuing five deep at the tills, the situation is even more confusing. From the amount of business it appears to be doing, its difficult to imagine how excess stock could fill its shelves year round.
Thats not to say that there arent offerings from last season: an alligator handbag, which was sold in main stores, is reduced from 1,390 to just 320.
But there are also other designs that, Im told, have been made for the outlet.
Other bags here are not from the collection, but they are made in the same place and from the same leather, an assistant tells me.
When I ask how I can tell, she says the Michael Kors logo is printed differently, and the lining is different, too, with a circular design on the boutique bags, and square on the outlet ones.
I examine their bag of the moment, a Jet Set Medium Travel Tote, which Im told has been made for the outlet. It gives an original price of 240 (you can certainly buy a similar tote for this price in Selfridges) and a reduced price of 159. A closer look at the tag inside displays the 240 figure as a manufacturer suggested retail price.
When I contact Michael Kors head office, they say the information I have been given in Bicester is incorrect.
Michael Kors outlet stores do not offer at any time seconds, irregular or inferior quality merchandise, a spokesman tells me. Our UK outlet products are either excess inventory from our full price retail distribution or prior season designs.
I ask for clarification. Why did Bicester staff say there were outlet only lines? Is the spokesman accepting they exist but implying they are manufactured from old designs? Despite several e mails I receive no response.
The outlet bag is different to the more expensive Selfridges one: it doesnt come with a dustbag, or zip across the top, and it feels stiffer. Instead of double, it has single stitched seams and a brash MK logo on the front rather than Michael Kors lettering.
Not that many people shopping at outlet stores seem to be questioning whether the bargains are quite as good as they seem.