Retailers’ outlets should not mislead shoppers on quality

02/03/2014 5:24 PM

02/03/2014 7:00 PM

Shoppers flock to outlet malls in search of bargains on brand-name clothing and other merchandise. But how great are the deals, really?

Too often, we fear, consumers are being snookered.

Four members of Congress are urging the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether outlet stores across the United States are intentionally promoting lesser-quality goods as items that were once on the racks of full-price retailers.

“It’s unfairly taking money from the purses and pockets of middle-class Americans,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who signed the letter along with three other Democrats – Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Ed Markey of Massachusetts, and Rep. Anna Eshoo of Atherton.

Sacramento Bee reporter Richard Chang wrote in December that outlet malls have become big business for well-known and upscale retailers. What many consumers do not realize is that many of these well-known retailers make separate product lines for their outlet stores. There are more than 300 outlet malls across the country.

Outlet mall owners say they are responding to the public appetite for brand-name goods at deep discounts, and that it shouldn’t surprise shoppers that many items aren’t exactly the same as in full-price stores. But it isn’t always clear that the shirt or sweater in that outlet store selling for 50 percent or 75 percent off the department store price is not as well made. The FTC should take this case to determine whether that rises to the level of “deceptive pricing.”

Yes, it’s buyer beware, but shoppers should not be misled.

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