If you want to look like a million dollars, but have yet to win the lottery, you have to shop tactically. Forget the daily trips to the high street where you have to pay regular prices, and head for the hills instead. Well, maybe not quite the hills, but at least start heading out of town.
It has been called the "retail phenomenon of the new millennium" and like most consumer habits, outlet shopping began in the US and gradually worked its way across the Atlantic. There are approximately 45 outlet shopping centres in the UK and that number appears to be growing.
The basic idea of the outlet, or the shopping village as it is sometimes known, is to bring upmarket brand names together under one roof. The concept of the shopping outlet benefits retailers, who can sell surplus stock in a decent location, and it benefits consumers, who can save up to 70 per cent off high street prices, without having to wait for the sales.
Outlet centres offer current and previous season's stock, end-of-line products, cancelled orders, quality seconds, discounted lines and returned merchandise at prices well below those of the high street. Consumer rights are the same and shoppers are entitled to a refund if goods are faulty, or if their rights have been breached in some other way.
Stores and labels that offer bargains at outlets include Armani, Burberry, Calvin Klein, Lacoste, Ted Baker, Karen Millen, Virgin XS Music and Reebok. Marks Spencer also has outlet stores at many of the centres.
Two of the best known outlet shopping brands are the McArthur Glen Designer outlets and the Freeport Outlets operated by REALM. The McArthur Glen outlets offer some very distinctive labels, including the likes of Dolce Gabbana and Prada, at discount prices, between 30 per cent and 70 per cent off what you would pay in the high street.
According to Charlotte Craven, marketing manager for REALM: "Outlet shopping offers shoppers that little bit extra." Their out of town location means that visiting a outlet is often a trip out, rather than "nipping to the shops".
"Today's shoppers demand more than just a good range of stores, they want to feel like they've got a bargain," says Charlotte. All outlet centres have food courts with a selection of restaurants and cafes, and many have play areas for children. The free car parking is another bonus.
In her book The Good Deal Directory, author Noelle Walsh offers the following tips for getting the most out of outlet shopping:
If you can, shop at villages during the week when it's quieter.
Most factory shopping villages discount their products even further at traditional high street sale times. So if you only visit villages twice a year, ring and check the sale times before you go.
If you're looking to be the height of fashion, factory shopping isn't for you unless you're a natural stylist and can mix looks to modernise.
Noelle, a former journalist, should know what she's talking about. She's been in the business of telling other people about bargains since 1992, when she first started her Good Deal Directory monthly newsletter. Now the newsletter has become a book that is worth buying if you are a serious bargain hunter, listing outlet stores and villages by region. Noelle says: "I try to find places that you wouldn't find yourself. I also try not to state the obvious and tell you about shops that you can easily discover on the high street."
As an experiment to test whether it was really possible to make significant savings from discount shopping, Noelle bought a three bedroom house in 2004 which she stocked and furnished from factory shops and villages.
In the end she saved pound;17,000 from her bargain hunting. "People have a perception that what you buy from outlets is second-hand or damaged, but I wanted to prove that you can stock a house with beautiful things without paying a fortune," she says. See how Noelle did it at www.thegooddealhouse.com.
If there is a disadvantage with outlet shopping, it's the very thing that makes it an advantage being out of town and out of the way. Outlet shopping works well for people with their own car, but not so well for those who rely on public transport.
For details of locations and opening times of outlet shopping villages and their stores check out:
For copies of The Good Deal Directory and information about current sales, visit www.gooddealdirectory.co.uk