World's Best Outlet Stores
may be the summer of high gas prices, but that's not stopping hordes of shoppers from driving for hours--or in some cases flying across continents--to visit the world's best outlet stores. U.S.-based outlet stores generated $16.5 billion in 2007, says Linda Humphers, editor-in-chief of Retail Brand News, a journal published by the International Council of Shopping Centers, a New York-based trade organization.
Despite high gas prices, Humphers says that number is expected to top $17 billion this year. What's the appeal? These stores offer extraordinary discounts on high-end, high-quality goods. At the Marni outlet store in the suburbs of Milan, for example, those on the hunt for designer Consuela Castiglioni's intellectual, artsy clothes--from just last season--will find them marked down 50% or more. Christine Low, a fashion show director based in Beijing, says it's the only outlet in the world she frequents. "I am not a very patient shopper," she says, "but I end up spending more than two hours every time I am in Milan at the Marni outlet."And for shoppers looking to travel abroad this summer--especially those flying into the U.S. from Europe, the Middle East or Asia--outlets provide the ultimate "shopcation."Michele Rothstein, a spokesperson for Chelsea Premium Outlets--a network of outlet centers that carry primarily up-market, luxury goods--says that when some tourists from Asia visit the famed Woodbury Commons in Central Valley, N.Y., they get off the plane at JFK or LaGuardia, hop in a cab with three or four empty suitcases and simply say "Woodbury." And the cab driver knows where to go. In fact, Asians make up such a huge percent of the company's customer base that they opened six centers in Japan and one in Korea over the last five years. Deal Or No Deal? Those in search of a similar "shopcation" might flock to the Prada factory outlet outside of Florence, Italy, to purchase a coveted handbag, or head to Gotemba, Japan, for a discount on the avant-garde label Maison Martin Margiela. But for those just looking to cut a deal--not create an experience--do outlets really provide a bargain?
It seems that everyone has a story about a disappointing trip to the outlet stores. Hopes were high, wallets were heavy, but there just wasn't anything to buy. In the 1990s, when outlet shopping first gained traction in the U.S., inventory was sparse. Today, however, these stores aren't just filled with cast-offs and surplus from past seasons. In fact, 80% of the products sold in outlets are designed particularly for those stores, says Marshal Cohen, chief retail expert at the Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD Group. Although the clothes are discounted 25-40% off regular store prices, they're produced with less frills: Instead of a 100% cashmere sweater, you'll find a more modest cashmere-cotton blend.
The retailers save on production, but they also save by eliminating the middleman, says Cohen. In the end, it's a profitable business despite the discounts consumers receive. These include savings on Lora Piana and Brioni at unisex Jeremy's in San Francisco and 70% off goods from Finish kitchen and bathroom outfitters Arabia, Hacksman and Iittala at Helsinki's Arabia Factory Outlet. Don't want to drag your Teema dishes or Aalto vase across continents? The warehouse offers an efficient export service. Where do you find deals? Weigh in. Post your thoughts in the Reader Comments section below. All evidence says that outlets win this summer despite threats from online retailers and local discounters biting into their bottom line. Charlie Graham, founder of Shop It To Me, a San Francisco-based aggregator of online sales, says although the online competition is stiff, there are definitely still deals to be had. His advice? Before heading to Milan for some discounted Dolce & Gabbana, know the original prices. "Just always be on the lookout," he says. "The stores will have a mix of great deals and not-so-great-deals."In Depth: World's Best Outlet Stores MarniMilan, Italy Italian Consuela Castiglioni's intellectual, artsy wares are marked down 50% or more at this suburban outlet store.
Christine Low, a fashion show director based in Beijing, says it's the only outlet in the world she frequents. "I am not a very patient shopper," she says, "but I end up spending more than two hours every time I am in Milan at the Marni outlet." For more information, visit www.marni-international.comWoodbury CommonsCentral Valley, N.Y. Here you'll find smaller labels like Catherine Malandrino, La Perla and Wolford alongside Burberry, Barneys and Chloe. There are also temporary clearance stores that pop-up throughout the year, offering even deeper discounts. For more information, visit www.premiumoutlets.com.
Joyce Warehouse at Horizon PlazaHong Kong
The discounted version of Joyce Ma's eponymous high-end department store rivals its pricier counterpart in popularity and urban cool. Fashion brands that skew toward the avant-guard include Ann Demeulemeester, Comme des Garçons and Vivienne Westwood. You'll also find the big guns like Jimmy Choo. For more information, call 852/2814-8313.Gotemba Premium OutletsGotemba, Japan When U.S.-based Chelsea Premium Outlets noticed a good chunk of their constituents were Asian, they decided to set up shop in the East. In the Tokyo area, Gotemba Premium Outlets boasts stores varying from upscale jeweler Bulgari to mid-level Coach to avant-garde Maison Martin Margiela. For more information, visit www.premiumoutlets.co.jp.
Prada/I Pellettieri d'ItaliaMontevarchi, Italy Designer Miuccia Prada's fashion house was formally known as I Pellettieri d'Italia, and that's what its outlet store still goes by. The inconsistency tends to confuse less-savvy tourists. (For fashionistas looking to score last season's It-bag for just $200, that's not a bad thing.) Shoppers can also find deep discounts--50% or more--on Prada's second-tier line Miu Miu. For more information, visit www.prada.com.
Yeoju Premium OutletsYeoju, Korea Opened just one year ago, Yeoju's 120 outlets shops include fashion and accessories houses like Issey Miyake, Coach and Escada, but you'll also find several stand-alone beauty stores--such as Clinique, MAC and Estée Lauder--offering better discounts on cosmetics than duty-free stores. High-end home goods from Le Creuset and Royal Copenhagen are also on offer. For more information, visit www.premiumoutlets.com.
FoxtownMendrisio, Switzerland Just 50 kilometers from Milan on the border of Italy and Switzerland, this factory outlet center consists of stores filled with discounted designer duds, from Dior to Jil Sander to Yves Saint Laurent. There are also bars, restaurants and even a casino to keep shoppers busy for a few days.For more information, visit www.foxtown.com.
Arabia Factory OutletHelsinki, Finland In Helsinki's Arabia Factory Outlet, goods from Finish kitchen and bathroom outfitters Arabia, Hacksman and Iittala are up to 70% off the original price. Don't want to drag your Teema dishes or Aalto vase across continents? The warehouse offers an efficient export service. For more information, visit www.arabia.fi.
D'Magazine OutletMilan, Italy
Right in the heart of Milan's fashion district, this tiny outlet shop is filled with goodies from big Italian names like Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana and Armani, as well as niche labels like DSquared2. As with most outlet stores, this one is hit or miss--on a good day, you'll find discounts up to 90% off. For more information, visit www.dmagazine.it.
Jeremy'sSan Francisco It might not be Italy, but you'll find labels like Lora Piana and Brioni at Jeremy's in the Bay Area. While most designer outlet stores cater to women, this discounter has plenty of goods for guys too, says Charlie Graham, founder of Shop It To Me, a San Francisco-based aggregator of online sales. For more information, visit www.jeremys.com.