You know that feeling you get when you buy brand name item at a discount? It's like you've beaten the system. You're absolved of any shopping guilt because you've saved money rather than spent it, even if that isn't actually the case. With the rise of discount outlet stores—which raked in over $50 billion in the past five years—retailers are keenly aware of our desire to buy things at prices that seem too good to be believed.
Turns out those deep discounts on brand name labels aren't always a steal. In February, Barneys New York was slapped with a class-action lawsuit accusing the luxury retailer of deceptive discounts at their lower-priced outlet stores. The plaintiff, Kristen Schertzer, claims she spent $450 at Barneys Warehouse on items that suggested a 50 percent markdown, when in fact, she alleges the products were never originally intended to be sold at Barneys.
"Barneys' scheme has the effect of tricking consumers into believing they are getting a significant deal by purchasing merchandise at a steep discount, when in reality, consumers are paying for merchandise at its regular retail price," according to the Schertzer's claims.
This not the first time consumers have raised concerns over brand name products sold by discount retailers, many of which produce lower-quality products for outlets, despite the implication they're more expensively made.
Banana Republic, Gap, Michael Kors, Cole Haan and Neiman Marcus have all been accused of selling lower-quality, outlet-only products as if they were deeply discounted items from their higher-end stores, when in fact they're not.
"I think outlet stores are configured to try and nicely mislead most people into thinking they're getting amazing overruns, amazing bargains," Mark Ellwood, author of Bargain Fever: How to Shop in a Discounted World, told Marketplace in 2014. "When you walk into an outlet store, you have to think, this stuff was made to be cheaper."
In their independent investigation, Marketplace "found items in outlet stores made with less durable leathers and different fabrics than the comparable products sold at the retail stores."
Ellwood wasn't surprised by the findings. "The quality of products at outlets varies widely. Remember, this stuff was largely made just to be sold cheaply. So they're going to cut corners," he said.
Coach, one of the labels in Marketplace's inquiry, acknowledged the discrepancies. "Generally, our manufactured-for-outlet product will be less embellished — using less overall hardware and/or simpler hardware, may not have an exterior pocket, or may have a narrower gusset, may have a simpler (non-branded) lining, or may use a flat versus tumbled leather — compared to the retail bag that inspired it," a Coach rep explained.
Meanwhile, Nordstrom Rack—Nordstrom's outlet chain—confirmed to Racked in 2014 "that only 20% of what it sells is clearance merchandise coming from their stores and website, while the rest is bought expressly for the outlet."
In 2018, Neiman Marcus settled a class action lawsuit over false claims in its Last Call outlet stores and promised more transparency on items made for cheaper outlets rather than the flagship stores.
An earlier suit against Michael Kors over their outlet practices resulted in an almost $5 million settlement and an agreement by Kors to replace the MSRP price on outlet tags with "value". So when you see that word on Kors outlet price-tags, it's an indication that the product was made expressly for the outlet and suggests the quality of that item isn't the same as one you might find by the flagship label.
Confused yet? You're not alone. If you really want to know whether your discount is for real, or just a cheaper knock-off with the brand name stamp of approval, the FTC has some helpful guidelines. Here are some things to look out for, according to FTC consumer education specialist, Colleen Tressler:
- Recognize that if you're buying something that looks new and undamaged, the price may be lower for a reason. For example, plastic might replace leather trim on a jacket, or a t-shirt may have less stitching and a lighter weight fabric. If top-quality is important, you may want to keep shopping. But if it's the style or the look that's key, quality may be a lower priority.
- If you're unsure whether the store sells "made-for-outlet" only merchandise or how to tell the difference between it and regular retail merchandise for sale, ask the staff.
- Shop for off-season merchandise. It typically comes at bargain prices.
- Ask about return policies. Some outlet stores let you return unused merchandise any time as long as the price tag hasn't been removed and you have the receipt. Other stores have 90-day or 120-day return policies. Some don't allow any returns.
- Many regular retail stores won't take returns from their outlet stores. That's something to ask your neighborhood retailer about, too.
So the next time you hit the racks and find a brand name handbag with a price tag that seems too good to be true, don't be surprised if it is. The label may be impressive, but the quality less so. That doesn't mean you shouldn't buy something if you love it, just research what you're really paying for before you hit the checkout counter.
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Toni Morrison has an anecdote about her first ever job, which was cleaning some neighborhood woman’s house. The young Toni arrived home after work one day and expressed her troubles to her father. But he didn’t provide the sympathy she expected. Instead, he gave her something better — his advice:
“Listen. You don’t live there. You live here. With your people. Go to work. Get your money. And come on home.”
Years later, she wrote about this remarkable experience for the New Yorker and said, in hindsight, this is what she learned:
1. Whatever the work is, do it well—not for the boss but for yourself
2. You make the job; it doesn’t make you
3. Your real life is with us, your family
4. You are not the work you do; you are the person you are
What Morrison so eloquently articulated was setting boundaries. I revisited this piece during the pandemic when working from home ramped up in earnest. Back when work was one of the few things that anchored my day.
Without a physical office, the pandemic shattered the work/life balance for many people. There was no more of that physical separation that Morrison talked about. There is no coming home from work physically. There is no real life to come back to — just a manufactured commute to your laptop in your makeshift home office.
But, par for the course, Gen Z are navigating this boundaryless era using TikTok. While internet gurus promote hustle culture and constant online availability since you’re not getting face time with your managers, there’s a trend in town — “quiet quitting.”
@zaidleppelin On quiet quitting #workreform ♬ original sound - ruby
The trend arose from the depths of the pandemic. Layoffs, salary cuts, and furloughs proved that their employers did not care about their hard-working employees.
The Washington Post dubs quiet quitting as a fresh trem for an old phenomenon: employee disengagement. In many cases, it’s a response to burnout. For much of Gen Z, it’s a way of establishing healthy boundaries in the office and resisting the pressure of the rat race. After all, why work yourself to the bone for a company that just proved it’s ready and willing to let you go?
Despite the term’s negative connotations, Quiet Quitting can provide an empowering shift in thinking for employees.
For far too long, employees have been indoctrinated with a slew of toxic workplace advice. Faced with these old misconceptions and lacking job security or clear paths for advancement, Gen Z is untethering their identities from work.
Quiet quitting — therefore — might be a bit of a misnomer. These employers aren’t completely disengaged. They’re certainly not launching Flight Club-esque sabotage attempts on their employers. NO. Contrary to media panic, Gen Z understands the value of a job — the fickle market they entered ensured that. But they also understand the value of life.
They’re doing what they’re being paid for. Nothing more, nothing less.
According to Chief, a private membership network focused on connecting and supporting women executive leaders, older generations should learn from this approach.
“Gen Z has already endured the largest seismic shifts to the career landscape than any previous generation, having started their careers in the middle of a pandemic that changed office culture forever and a gig economy that makes piecing together work more viable. They’re taking both those realities and therefore demanding more autonomy and flexibility than any other generation.”
Gen Z are less attached to job titles and statuses. They’re more concerned about their lives. Sure, this can lead to problematic outlooks on money and experiences — see the “I can earn my money back” TikTok trend. But it’s better than hustling for no reward. Besides, as some Gen Z-ers put it on TikTok, the office isn’t even a vibe.
“With the ability to work from anywhere and for more than just one place, Gen Z-ers are forging their own paths that don’t rely on old patterns set by previous generations and are redefining what “career success” looks like. Gen Z can take note, as more and more leaders are similarly pursuing multiple income streams of their own through the form of a portfolio career. The way in which work looks like and where it happens is evolving.”
With less single-minded focus on one job, some TikTok business gurus advocate shutting your laptops precisely at 5 pm. And then jump onto your side hustle. Do nails or lashes on the weekend. Become social media managers for your phone. Sell soap on Etsy (again … perhaps not in the Fight Club way).
But this valorization of side hustles is not about hustle culture, either. They say job security isn’t guaranteed. Learning new skills and develop an alternate income stream/s to keep you afloat. Just make sure you’re not left in the lurch. BTW inflation is here. So every little bit helps.
But where do you start? Watching TikToks can only get you so far. Try a course on LinkedIn Learning to sharpen up your skills and learn new ones that you can turn into a verifiable side hustle — or leverage in your job search if quiet quitting leads to … real quitting.
Learn on your own time with bite-sized videos or in-depth courses. Watch them after work, before you clock in, or on your lunch break. Then, after your courses are complete, you’ll have certificates prominently displayed on your profile that prove your skills.
There’s an internet trend that says that everyone has three drinks: one for energy, one for hydration, and one for fun.
Hydration drinks are usually seltzer, a sports drink, or good old-fashioned water. Fun drinks can be anything from boba to kombucha to a refreshing fountain sprite. But the drink you choose for energy says the most about you. Are you a chill tea drinker? An alternative yerba mate devotee? A matcha-obsessed TikTok That Girl wannabe? A chaotic Red Bull chugger? Or are you a lover of the classics, a person after my own heart, who just loves a good cuppa joe?
Coffee can come in many forms. Straight black, concentrated like cold brew for a heartier flavor, or a milky, sugary, frothy treat for a blend of energy and fun.
But the dreaded coffee descriptor: downright bad.
We’ve all been there — free hotel coffee, questionable diner coffee, disappointing overpriced coffee shop coffee. Pour one out for the cups we left unfinished due to sheer revulsion.
In those moments — taking a sip of bitter, bad bean juice and worrying that someone might know if we slyly spit it back into the offending cup — I start to wonder if the “make your coffee at home” brigade is right.
It’s a common point of contention in the personal finance community — but also in the world at large. Is it really such a monumental waste of money to buy coffee instead of making it at home?
If you go by the dollar, of course it’s cheaper to brew a cup at home. Plus, you’ll always know what you’re getting. It’s not exciting, but it’s not disappointing either. You'll never risk a truly awful cup unless you never learned how to use that French press of yours.
But what about the emotional cost? Especially during the heights of the pandemic, going out for a little coffee and a walk was one of the few indulgences we were allowed. Plus, there’s a reason coffee shops are always bustling and busy. They’re a place of communion. Of community. To gather intentionally, to bump into the same 9:47 a.m. crowd every morning on your commute, or to stumble into delight.
And, while the money you save making every single cup of coffee at home could compound into hundreds of dollars over your lifetime…is it worth it?
If your coffee habit is integral to your happiness — for so many of us, it is — don’t give it up. Add it to your budget alongside other delights that align with your values like your Apple Music premium subscription or your travel fund.
Maybe reduce other expenses like that accompanying pastry, disposable cups, or larger sizes over smaller ones. You can also find a middle ground. Save your coffee walks for a special occasion or reduce to a few times a week. A few times a week, why not splurge on an at-home coffee brand you truly adore to make yourself more likely to brew at home. Better yet: one you can take on-the-go. Never stoop to subpar coffee again!
Enter: Cometeer Coffee.
Cometeer is the latest coffee innovation: flash frozen coffee pods. They developed a proprietary extraction system that optimizes all the variables that lead to spectacular coffee. This is achieved with high-quality coffee beans, flash freeze them, and deliver the pods right to your door. Simply melt and enjoy.
26 grams of coffee go into each capsule, brewed with a process that’s carefully calibrated to extract as much flavor as possible from the beans — which are sourced from an array of the country’s best roasters. As soon as it’s brewed, it’s frozen at a chilly -321 degrees to lock in its flavor. The result? The perfect icy puck of the most complex coffee you’ve ever tasted.
And with a travel set to ramp up, having easy coffee pods on hand will be a game-changer. Everyone’s traveling — but travel better by packing Cometeer pods.
Based on research from the travel guidance firm The Vacationer, more than 42% of Americans are expected to travel this summer than last, while only 12% will travel less. (The 42% is a notable jump from the 25% who said they would travel more in 2021's survey.)
It’s the summer of revenge travel, promising lots of trips … which means endless nights, early mornings, and long airport lines. Get through them with coffee, but don’t settle for less than the best.
Cometeer's hyper-flavorful top-tier beans come from the world’s best roasters, ground and brewed with incredible precision, flash-frozen at peak flavor, and ready to be melted by you.
Making great coffee is hard, but melting great coffee is easy. Peel back the lid and drop it in a mug. Add hot water, enjoy. The end.
Over two years into the most momentous event in our lives the world has changed forever … Some of us have PTSD from being locked up at home, some are living like everything’s going to end tomorrow, and the rest of us are merely trying to get by. When the pandemic hit we entered a perpetual state of vulnerability, but now we’re supposed to return to normal and just get on with our lives.
What does that mean? Packed bars, concerts, and grocery shopping without a mask feel totally strange. We got used to having more rules over our everyday life, considering if we really had to go out or keeping Zooming from our living rooms in threadbare pajama bottoms.
The work-from-home culture changed it all. Initially, companies were skeptical about letting employees work remotely, automatically assuming work output would fall and so would the quality. To the contrary, since March of 2020 productivity has risen by 47%, which says it all. Employees can work from home and still deliver results.
There are a number of reasons why everyone loves the work from home culture. We gained hours weekly that were wasted on public transport, people saved a ton of money, and could work from anywhere in the world. Then there were the obvious reasons like wearing sweats or loungewear all week long and having your pets close by. Come on, whose cat hasn’t done a tap dance on your keyboard in the middle of that All Hands Call!
Working from home grants the freedom to decorate your ‘office’ any way you want. But then people needed a change of environment. Companies began requesting their employees' RTO, thus generating the Hybrid Work Model — a blend of in-person and virtual work arrangements. Prior to 2020, about 20% of employees worked from home, but in the midst of the pandemic, it exploded to around 70%.
Although the number of people working from home increased and people enjoyed their flexibility, politicians started calling for a harder RTW policy. President Joe Biden urges us with, “It’s time for Americans to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again.”
While Boris Johnson said, “Mother Nature does not like working from home.'' It wasn’t surprising that politicians wanted people back at their desks due to the financial impact of working from the office. According to a report in the BBC, US workers spent between $2,000 - $5,000 each year on transport to work before the pandemic.
That’s where the problem lies. The majority of us stopped planning for public transport, takeaway coffee, and fresh work-appropriate outfits. We must reconsider these things now, and our wallets are paying
the price. Gas costs are at an all-time high, making public transport increase their fees; food and clothes are all on a steep incline. A simple iced latte from Dunkin’ went from $3.70 to $3.99 (which doesn’t seem like much but 2-3 coffees a day with the extra flavors and shots add up to a lot), while sandwiches soared by 14% and salads by 11%.
This contributes to the pressure employees feel about heading into the office. Remote work may have begun as a safety measure, but it’s now a savings measure for employees around the world.
Bloomberg are offering its US staff a $75 daily commuting stipend that they can spend however they want. And other companies are doing the best they can. This still lends credence to ‘the great resignation.’ Initially starting with the retail, food service, and hospitality sectors which were hard hit during the pandemic, it has since spread to other industries. By September 2021, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 4.4 million resignations.
That’s where the most critical question lies…work from home, work from the office or stick to this new hybrid world culture?
Borris Johnson thinks, “We need to get back into the habit of getting into the office.” Because his experience of working from home “is you spend an awful lot of time making another cup of coffee and then, you know, getting up, walking very slowly to the fridge, hacking off a small piece of cheese, then walking very slowly back to your laptop and then forgetting what it was you’re doing.”
While New York City Mayor Eric Adams says you “can't stay home in your pajamas all day."
In the end, does it really matter where we work if efficiency and productivity are great? We’ve proven that companies can trust us to achieve the same results — or better! — and on time with this hybrid model. Employees can be more flexible, which boosts satisfaction, improves both productivity and retention, and improves diversity in the workplace because corporations can hire through the US and indeed all over the world.
We’ve seen companies make this work in many ways, through virtual lunches, breakout rooms, paint and prosecco parties, and — the most popular — trivia nights.
As much as we strive for normalcy, the last two years cannot simply be erased. So instead of wiping out this era, it's time to embrace the change and find the right world culture for you.