The outlet mall is a beguiling seductress. It lures you in with the promise of bargains, preys upon your weakness for a good deal, and simultaneously loosens your purse strings and inhibitions. Next thing you know, you're loading your car trunk with shopping bags and you've blown through your monthly budget in one afternoon.

It all starts off pretty harmlessly:

You're driving across the state when a green highway sign catches your attention: 60 Miles to Outlet Mall. Then a huge billboard appears: 200 Outlet Stores! Next thing you know, you’re pulling into the parking lot at the outlet mall.  The place is packed as swarms of shoppers swinging bags from your favorite stores whiz by you. Coach, Banana Republic, Nike, J.Crew, Kate Spade. You start to feel giddy and there's pep in your step as you rush towards 300,000 square feet of sales! It may be an ordinary Monday but feels like Black Friday.  

Five hours, seven swipes of your credit card and a trip to the ATM later, you're heaving shopping bags into your car trunk. Then reality sinks in: your shopping spree means you'll be eating ramen noodles and working double-shifts for the next month.

Don't let this happen to you. If you want to know why outlet malls cause shoppers to overspend and how to avoid common outlet store rip-offs, then read on.

Price Tags Lie

Most price tags affixed to goods in outlet store feature two values: the selling price and the full price, which is commonly listed as the Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP). Most shoppers gauge whether they are getting a good deal by comparing these two prices. For example, if the price tag says the selling price is $50 and the full price (MSRP) is $150, then the customer thinks they are getting a pretty good deal. Buyer beware! Most stores make price tags specifically for outlet items. As such, the manufacturer can list any MSRP he wants to make the customer think she is getting a bigger bargain.

Some Items in Outlet Stores Are Full Price

Most would believe they are getting a better deal at an outlet, but you’d better get your expectations in check. While a store like Ballard Designs outlet sells some furniture at the discounted prices like you’d expect from an outlet, they also offer a limited selection of full price items. So don't think that couch is on sale just because it's in the outlet store.

Not Every Store is an Outlet

Do not assume that a store is an outlet because it is located in an outlet mall.  For example, the H&M store at the Citadel Outlets in Los Angeles, CA is actually a retail store. It has the same merchandise (and prices) as the H&M store at the traditional mall.

Outlet Merchandise Does Not Always Come From The Retail Store

In the past, outlet stores mainly carried merchandise that was originally made for the retail or department store but was unfit for retail sale. Today, only about 15 percent of the merchandise in outlet stores actually comes from the retail store. The remaining 85 percent of the merchandise are goods the manufacturer made specifically for the outlet store. While the merchandise may carry the same brand name as the retail merchandise, straight for outlet goods use lower quality fabrics and construction techniques.

The Location Compels You to Buy

Most outlet stores are located 25 to 100 miles outside of town. As such, most people have to travel to get to the outlet stores, and many shoppers like to make a "day out of it.” Since you invested time and travel into your shopping experience, you will most likely feel compelled to buy something to make your trip worthwhile, even when it’s neither a good deal nor an item you really love.

Next time you visit an outlet mall, be a smart shopper and make sure you keep these tips in mind. Your wallet will thank you!

This has been a guest post by Lisa from Miami, FL
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The Truth about Outlet Malls