Even people who don’t normally consider themselves shopping enthusiasts are often tempted to pull off the interstate when they see a sign for an outlet mall. With savings of 25 to 75 percent, how could you lose?
Outlet shopping in the United States is big business, and the malls have become some of the top tourist destinations in the country. But navigating the wealth of discount-shopping opportunities takes savvy and finesse; some stores sell only “seconds” (imperfect merchandise rejected for retail sale). Other outlets sell only discontinued items, last season’s merchandise, or lower-quality products manufactured specifically for outlet stores. However, some hidden gems are out there, in this country and around the world. These stars of the outlet universe have amazing merchandise and a selection of stores that keep shopaholics happy—and spending.
Most Upscale Stores: Woodbury Commons, Central Valley, New York
Located about an hour north of New York City, Woodbury Commons is such a well-known destination for bargain seekers that the mall is served by commuter rail and several bus and coach lines, and offers discounts on car rentals. For the ultra-luxe shopper, there’s even a private helicopter service available at a nearby airport. The mall offers far more than the usual assortment of mid-range apparel stores, and shoppers come in droves to look for deals on Balenciaga, Betsey Johnson, Bottega Veneta, Dior, Oscar de la Renta, Chloe, Catherine Malandrino, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, and other top designers. If you’re in search of housewares, you can browse 1000-thread-count Italian linens from Frette and Pratesi or cookware from Williams-Sonoma and Crate & Barrel. After a day of shopping, the only problem is fitting all that loot into your tiny Manhattan apartment.
Best Stand-Alone Designer Outlet: Prada Outlet, Montevarchi, Italy
In Tuscany on the outskirts of Florence, the Prada outlet serves as a shining beacon to shoppers who want great deals—usually about 50 percent off—on Prada shoes, men’s and women’s apparel, and accessories. The store is large, but it’s so popular with locals and tourists alike that there’s often a wait to enter the building, which is housed in an industrial complex with other designer outlets. Many visitors have trouble finding the store; its official name is I Pellettieri d’Italia, the original name of Miuccia Prada’s clothing label. Since the merchandise is originally quite expensive, don’t expect to pay mere pennies. However, the discounts are significant compared to retail price in the United States, and there’s a better selection compared to what’s in the handful of Prada outlets in North America.
Most Unique Selection: Bicester Village, Oxfordshire, England
Bicester Village, an hour outside of London, has only 130 stores, but some of those stores are unusual and special outlets that you won’t find many other places in the world, if at all. Bicester is home to the factory stores for labels like Anya Hindmarch, Ted Baker, Luella, Agent Provocateur, Temperley, Diane von Furstenburg, Pringle of Scotland, Smythson of Bond Street, and Thomas Pink. Fashionable city dwellers take the express train from London direct to the mall, and often take advantage of the complimentary style-consultant services offered on weekdays.
Best Shopping Vacation: FoxTown Outlets, Mendrisio, Switzerland
Not only does this mall have a selection of 160 high-end designer stores, including brands like Burberry, Jil Sander, Missoni, Ferragamo, and other lesser-known European designers, but the owners have also made it a vacation destination. Located only fifty kilometers from Milan, the mall includes a beauty salon as well as several bars and restaurants that are a big step up from the Auntie Anne’s Pretzels in American outlets. If your purse is still feeling heavy, there’s even a casino, and if you ever manage to get tired of spending money, Lake Como is just a stone’s throw away.
Oldest Outlet Store in America: VF Outlet Center, Reading, Pennsylvania
When the Vanity Fair factory store first opened in 1970, only a curtain separated the shoppers from the machines and workers turning out overrun supplies of hosiery, sleepwear, and lingerie. Today, VF produces apparel for brands like Nautica, Lee, Wrangler, JanSport, and Lily of France, and what was once a single store has now become an entire mall, anchored by the original VF outlet.
Biggest Outlet Mall: Sawgrass Mills, Sunrise, Florida
With over 350 stores, not counting the mall’s numerous restaurants, arcades, movie theaters, and other entertainment destinations, Sawgrass Mills just may have more shopping options than any other outlet mall in the world. Here you’ll find all the outlet staples—and we do mean all of them—along with Theory, Loro Piana, Barneys New York, and TAG Heuer. Situated in Broward County just outside of Fort Lauderdale, the mall estimates that 26 million people visit each year, more than double the number who visit nearby Epcot Center.
Best Destination for Crystal Lovers: Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England
Pottery master Josiah Wedgwood was born in Staffordshire in 1730, and today the region is still the pottery-producing center of England. Shoppers who love fine china, crystal, and all manner of exquisite tableware can find discounts here at factory stores for brands like Royal Doulton, Edinburgh Crystal, Spode, Royal Winton, Argyle China, Wedgwood, and Waterford. Most items in the stores are seconds, but many of the blemishes are either purely cosmetic or invisible to the naked eye.
Outlet shopping, with its promises of discounts and deals, is one of the fastest-growing retail trends in the world. According to Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, about 40 percent of Americans visit one every year, and it’s quickly expanding to Europe, Asia, and even the Middle East. People may not always agree on politics or religion, but if there’s one thing that unites everybody across the world, it’s that we all love a good deal.