There are tricks to shopping at outlets

November 17, 2013

It used to be a tradition in my house that whenever we traveled to the beach we had to set aside time to hit the Delaware outlets. If I was lucky, it would rain one day during our stay, which made wandering in and out of shops, and in and out of shops, at least tolerable. It was better than doing nothing.

If I wasn’t lucky, we would stop on our way out of town. And trust me, there’s no better recipe for friction than a spouse who wants to hit the road, like, now, and a spouse who wants to make sure no tax-free bargain goes unconsidered. The more impatient I became, the more thoroughly she searched.

But I knew when I was beat, so I usually just found a bench somewhere.

My perch allowed me to study the art of the bargain hunter. I learned the first thing you do when you land at an outlet center is find the management office. That’s where they keep the coupon books, promising an extra 20 percent off if you spend $100 or more at this store or that.

Most of those coupons can’t be used on the brands you really want to buy, but there’s always one or two worth the trip, and with those discounts, the game is on. The trick is to combine a coupon with an in-house sale, and then haggle for a little more.

My wife taught me you never, ever, pay before asking if there might be another discount available. “Can you check my account?” she’ll ask sweetly, while making small talk with the clerk. Sure enough there is another 30 percent off available in honor of her birthday, or some such craziness.

On a good trip, we would score so much there would be little free space in the already packed-for-vacation car.

That was OK when such excursions came once a year or so, usually before the kids went back to school. We could afford to splurge. Now, though, I’m worried. The outlets are multiplying. Tanger is opening one in Prince George’s, at National Harbor, closer to home.

I hope they have comfortable benches.

Dan Beyers is the founding editor of Capital Business, The Washington Post’s go-to source for news about the region’s business community.
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