BOSTON (CBS) – Many shoppers head to the outlets looking for a bargain. But a group of U.S. senators is not convinced the deals are so great. “I’m very concerned that outlet stores may be misleading the consumers,” says Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal.

Senator Blumenthal, Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey and others have asked the Federal Trade Commission to look into claims that retailers may be selling lower quality items made specifically for outlets stores without properly informing consumers. “There’s a lot of evidence that people shopping at outlet malls or at outlet establishments have no idea that goods and merchandise are made specifically for outlet malls,” says Senator Blumenthal.

When shopping at the outlets it can be hard to tell just from looking at a price tag or label if the item came from a retail store or if it was made just for the outlet. The FTC says store employees should know the answer. So we went shopping at Wrentham Village Premium Outlets to ask the question. Store clerks told us all items were made specifically for the outlets at Banana Republic, J. Crew, The Gap, and Ann Taylor. J. Crew was the only store to use the word “Factory” on its price tag.

Coach and Lane Bryant offered a combination of retail and outlet-only items. At Lane Bryant shoppers will find posted signs and very clear labels for outlet “exclusives.” At Coach, there’s no obvious way to know the difference without asking an employee.

The FTC says “it pays to be familiar with the retail prices of items…. so you’ll know whether you’re really getting a bargain.” Which could be likely with many die-hard deal seekers.

Tod Marks of Consumer Reports says, “outlet shoppers tend to be very brand conscious. They know what a brand stands for… they’re willing to accept whatever sort of accommodations [are] made or whatever sort of short cut, if you will, is taken in order to achieve a lower price point.”

Keep in mind when buying a gift, outlet-only items need to be returned to the outlets as well. This can get confusing for the gift recipient when the label isn’t clearly marked as an outlet item.



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