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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When you take out a loan for a car, charge something to your credit card, or get a personal line of credit, there is going to be an interest rate that applies to your loan.
A lot of different factors go into what you will be charged, including your own personal credit score. But even those with flawless credit still see a minimum charge that they can't get around. That all goes back to the Federal Funds Rate.
One thing consumers rarely realize is that all of our banks are lending money to each other every night. Banks are legally required to maintain a certain percentage of their deposits in non-interest-bearing accounts at the Federal Reserve to ensure they have enough money to cover any withdrawals that may unexpectedly come up. However, deposits can fluctuate and it's very common for some banks to exceed the requirement on certain days while some fall short. In cases like this, banks actually lend each other money to ensure they meet the minimum balance. It's a bit hard to imagine these multibillion-dollar financial institutions needing to borrow money to tide them over for a bit, but it happens every single night at the Federal Reserve. It's also a nice deal for those with balances above the reserve balance requirement to earn a bit of money with cash that would normally just be sitting there.
The Federal Reserve
The exact interest rate the banks will charge each other is a matter of negotiation between them, but the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) (the arm of the Federal Reserve that sets monetary policy) meets eight times a year to set a target rate. They evaluate a multitude of economic indicators including unemployment, inflation, and consumer confidence to decide the best rate to keep the country in business. The weighted average of all interest rates across these interbank loans is the effective federal funds rate.
This rate has a huge impact on the economy overall as well as your personal finances. The federal funds rate is essentially the cheapest money available to a bank and that feeds into all of the other loans they make. Banks will add a slight upcharge to the rate set by the Fed to determine what is the lowest interest that they will announce for their most creditworthy customers, also known as the prime rate. If you have a variable interest rate loan (very common with credit cards and some student loans), it's likely that the interest rate you pay is a set percentage on top of that prime rate that your lender is paying. That's why in times of low interest rates (it was set at 0% during the Great Recession), a lot of borrowers should go for fixed interest rate loans that won't increase. However, if the federal funds rate was relatively high (it went up to 20% in the early 1980's), a variable interest rate loan may be a better decision as you would be charged less interest should the rate drop without the need to refinance.
The federal funds rate also has a major impact on your investment portfolio. The stock market reacts very strongly to any changes in interest rates from the Federal Reserve, as a lower rate makes it cheaper for companies to borrow and reinvest while a higher rate may restrict capital and slow short-term growth. If you have a significant portion of your investments in equities, a small change in the federal funds rate can have a large impact on your net worth.
Whether you're leaving a job involuntarily, departing for something new, or just want to prepare for the unknown, it is smart to understand all your options regarding your 401k.
Frugal gifting often gets a bad reputation. However, this shopping method does not make you cheap — it makes you practical. Frugal gifts often avoid waste and overspending and can be just as meaningful (if not more so) as any other present.
With the National Retail Federation predicting each consumer this holiday season to spend upwards of $1,000 on holiday gifts amidst an economic recession —this year might be the perfect time to reconsider your spending budget. We've formulated the ultimate list of frugal gift-giving ideas to get you started.