Retail vs Outlet- Worth it?

The whole topic of buying retail as opposed to buying outlet is certainly popular right now. CBC (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) recently aired a piece on the question of quality in outlet stores. It is not so straightforward as to be, “it’s all terrible, or it’s all quality”- but that seems to be the approach that most people take. Because I have enough of it to compare, my examples will come from Kate Spade! (Also, feel free to read my related posts, Alternatives to Outlet Stores and Tips to Prepare for Outlet Shopping!)

Are outlet stores a cheaper way to find all of your favourite designers regular merchandise? Probably not. Realistically, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. This is the age of the internet- we all have the ability to do research, so people need to stop relying on the fact that outlet stores did sell overstocked and imperfect retail merchandise in the 1970s and 1980s. This is 2016, do your own research!

Outlet stores are now places for designers to sell lower-value lines for lower prices. You may find the odd piece here or there that was made for their retail store, but that’s just luck! (Well, partial luck, and partial knowing your own outlets.) Kate Spade’s outlets and Surprise Sales seem to be split roughly 90%/10% for outlet/retail. However, are these specific pieces inherently bad? I would argue no. When I go to the Kate Spade outlet, I can purchase a sweater for a a third of the price of a sweater in the Kate Spade retail store. I recognise that it is not the same quality sweater that I am buying in the retail store, but that does not mean that it is worthless by any stretch of the imagination. The sweater is worth what I paid at the outlet, so I have not been “tricked” or “hoodwinked”, which is what a lot of people claim.

At this point in time, Kate Spade is actually producing lines specifically for the outlet (and stores like Winners, Marshall’s, and Nordstrom Rack). There are differences, certainly- lesser quality leathers, more vinyl items, specific lining, a cloth or plastic name plate instead of metal or stamped, a cut out Spade or large Spade logo, and mixed materials in clothing. I have noted some of the differences on my Metro Spade Darby here:



My Metro Spade Darby is 100% an outlet item- but it is exactly what I was looking for! I was looking for a slim, red crossbody; I adore the cut-out spades, and the shiny finish. Is it going to last 10 years? Maybe not, but for $80 and the fact that it perfectly meets my needs, it’s a good bargain!

My Sawyer Street Maxi tote that I purchased in May from the Surprise Sale is also an outlet item. The straps are thinner, the logo is a cut-out spade (the hallmark of a Spade outlet item), the lining is the “Kate Spade New York” script lining (another hallmark of outlet status), and there are no feet on it. I paid $99 USD for it, while the comparable retail version (Cedar Street Small Harmony) is $268 USD. I wanted this for work, to be able to carry things to and from meetings. I wasn’t looking to purchase an investment bag for this, just something elegant that will be big enough for some files and a notebook! My Sawyer Street Maxi achieves all of this, for less than half of the price.





There are more positives to the outlet side of things- some people are specifically searching these outlet items out now! I’m in a few Kate Spade re-sell groups on Facebook, and people are currently going crazy over the hot air balloon outlet items. My Scottie print tote bag and wallet were only made for outlets/Surprise Sale, and I adore them. If you aren’t looking for a classic style, or a leather bag, the outlet is a goldmine!


As much I as love Kate Spade, I realistically could not afford to purchase the full price retail version of every item I own. However, I still love the aesthetic and the company! Outlets and stores like Nordstrom Rack and Winners allow me to purchase more items in Kate Spade’s style within my budget. Are you getting the purse that was sold for $398 USD for $150 USD? Unless it is defective, out of season, or a less-popular colour or style, NO. However, is what you bought worth what you paid at the outlet? Most likely, yes! Ignore that “Suggested Retail Price” and just compare the item and it’s quality with the price you will actually pay, not what it “may” have sold for.



What are your thoughts on outlets??

Until tomorrow,
The Historian!

27 thoughts on “Retail vs Outlet- Worth it?

  1. oliviawisepr January 26, 2016 / 8:16 am

    As a Kate Spade fanatic who frequently looks for her line at outlets stores and TJ Maxx, I really enjoyed this post! Thanks for the great read.


  2. mt077 January 26, 2016 / 7:01 pm

    I like the accompanying notes with the products 🙂


    • anhistorianabouttown January 27, 2016 / 8:44 pm

      I try to, but with the poor Canadian/US exchange right now, it’s getting quite expensive for me 😦 For some things though, totally worth it!!


  3. Jenny @ The Sensible Shopaholic February 1, 2016 / 3:53 pm

    I love this post. I’m with you that even if it isn’t quite as good of quality as the full price retail stores, as long as it is something you love and will use, it is totally worth it. At some point I want to do a post with my thoughts on other designers since some are way better than others!


  4. shristey February 8, 2016 / 2:30 am

    I never even knew about this, such an interesting read! Outlet shops are few and far between in New Zealand, often you’re better of buying online


    • anhistorianabouttown February 8, 2016 / 8:34 am

      We have some in Canada, but very few where I live! We do have a couple of Marshalls, but we typically have to go down to the States 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  5. katespadegirl February 19, 2016 / 11:09 pm

    I must say though…my FAVORITE leather they use for handbags? HANDS DOWN is outlet. The textured stuff leather of all my small Rachelle bags. It holds up THE BEST of any bag over ever had!!! They used to use it in the specialty shops 5-6 years ago, but now it’s outlet exclusives. The small Rachelle bag, it’s my dream bag. (I have it in 8 colours. Oops!) It’s just a sturdier version of the Maise bag, and I like the leather better! Oh and the fact I can snag them for $60-$90 on massive sale!

    Clothing is sometimes comparable….not all, but they remake (same fabrics) pieces from the regular line the year before for outlet! Cardigans and blouses are always slightly different, and there’s always pieces that are outlet only. Outlet also has FANTASTIC novelty pieces! (Like your Scottie bag!!)

    Love this post, Eeks, another KS Fanatic!!


    • anhistorianabouttown February 20, 2016 / 2:22 pm

      I absolutely love my Cameron Street Maise in Cherry, but overall, I enjoy the outlet bags just as much! Sure, there are a few differences but overall I haven’t noticed a glaring difference. There were some outlet bags that I thought were certainly better quality leather than the retail! I love my Cobble Hill Little Curtis and the pebbled leather, it’s perfect for me! I’m not as much of a fan of the patent leather that seems common in the retail bags- that’s asking for me to mark it/scratch it 😦 I haven’t seen the Rachelle in person, but I will now be on the hunt for it!! I love the Maise’s size and shape- a $90 version?? Yes, please!!

      The one that really gets me is the Neda outlet wallet and the Lacey retail- essentially the identical wallet with how much of a price difference! If I had an unlimited budget, sure- all retail all the way. Unfortunately, I am not, so the outlet lets me find some clothing that is the same style and still decent quality (though maybe not the same as retail). I have two pieces on my upcoming Style Saturday that are Marshalls finds- better than most other sweaters that I have, even if it isn’t worth the $200+ from the retail store.
      I’m curious- are there often shoes in the outlets??
      Ps. I will admit it- I’m a Kate Spade fiend, and that’s not changing!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • katespadegirl February 20, 2016 / 2:24 pm

        Only a few outlets carry shoes anymore….I think Vegas? Unsure of anywhere else left locally that I have been too.


        • anhistorianabouttown February 20, 2016 / 2:39 pm

          I’ve not seen them at Winners/Marshalls here, or at the outlet in Seattle. I did get a pair of KS Keds at Nordstrom Rack, but I’ve yet to see flats or heels there 😦


  6. Ysa Santiago July 26, 2017 / 12:42 am

    Been trying to look for a certain points on how to identify or notice the difference or even asked myself if all i bought were indeed a bad quality.. you enlighten me on what matters most.. getting the best value for my money while having my favorite KS bags/wallets! THANK YOU!


    • anhistorianabouttown July 27, 2017 / 6:36 am

      I’m glad that this was able to help you!! I think that now that they are developing entirely separate outlet and retail lines, it’s giving more of a clear choice ☺


  7. Mademoiselle adielle October 24, 2017 / 11:51 am

    I dunno if it’s the same worldwide, i live in Germany and i don’t really go shopping so often. Outlets seems cheaper ( not all to much) but with the same quality.


    • anhistorianabouttown October 27, 2017 / 9:04 pm

      Ooo, that’s good to know for when I travel! In North America, outlet lines are specifically made separately, but Europe could very well still work on the old outlet model where actual retail products ended up!! (Lucky ducks!!)

      Liked by 1 person

  8. thehomeplaceweb February 26, 2018 / 9:33 am

    My thoughts on outlets? I wish we had some here within easy driving distance! There are definitely disadvantages to living in the wilderness…


    • anhistorianabouttown March 3, 2018 / 1:48 pm

      Thankfully I live in the country but still close to the city if I need anything! It’s interesting to me that some cities still don’t have outlets- Winnipeg just got our first outlet mall this past summer!


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