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I've got good news and bad news. The good news is that you can save a lot at outlet shopping centers. The bad news is that they are not the great deal they used to be, and you have to be much more careful. Make sure the discount you are getting is really a good deal.

Ten years ago outlets were bare bones warehouses that sold mostly overruns and irregulars for cash. Today they are carpeted, well lit and take charge cards. Overruns and irregulars are now a small part of what they sell.

Since outlets are usually hours away, you need to decide if spending a day driving to an outlet center is worth your while. Here are some tips.

#1. Outlets typically offer a 30%-40% discount over retail every day. However, you might get the same discount or better close to home when a local store has a sale.

#2. There are over 300 outlet centers. You might find one closer than you think. Also when you take a trip, you could find you go right by one.

#3. Buy an outlet directory. Study it for location and types of stores.

#4. Since each store is owned by the company, you will usually find a huge selection of that company's merchandise. This selection will generally be much larger than any you can find locally. Some items are only sold through outlet stores.

#5. Outlets have sales. You will probably find unbeatable prices then. Get on their mailing list.

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#6. Best bargains will generally be in the back. Ask at each store for the location of their discounted closeout and irregular merchandise. You may be able to buy clothes at 50%-70% off in these special sections.

#7. Don't take any discount at face value. You should know generally what things sell for before you go.

#8. If you find flaws in first-quality garments, talk to the manager. You may be able to get a larger discount.

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#9. Guaranteed? Many outlets may have limited return policies. And even though a store may offer a money-back guarantee, you might never get back to that particular store. Ask about returns by mail.

#10. Outlet stores will generally have seasonal clothes much longer than retail stores. tm NEWSLETTER
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