Take a look at the idea of ‘outlets’ | Jerry Epperson

I am so old that the word outlet still means a place in the wall to plug in your lamp or toaster.

Home furnishings retailers have struggled over the years for an identity. At one time, better quality stores served the “carriage trade;” then some used either a family name or a recognized brand to offer “Wayside” stores.

Ethan Allen and Pennsylvania House had many wayside stores in the Northeast. The once familiar Ethan Allen broken-pediment facade can still be found here and there, such as the one that is now an antique store in south  Richmond.

Speaking of Richmond, Heilig-Meyers, once the largest furniture store chain in the U.S. and based here, carried a wide array of furniture as well as appliances, consumer electronics and other items including lawn mowers and jewelry. And it liked to say it sold to “the town doctor and his maid” because it carried its own consumer credit and operated primarily in smaller communities.

If you watch store openings like I do, most stores in our industry now prefer to open as “outlets” because someone somewhere said consumers equated outlets with higher value.

Do they? I think they did, but the rapid growth of “outlet malls” in too many places has lessened their credibility. My thought is if the athletic shoe and apparel makers have as many damaged, discontinued, returned and seconds to sell in their outlets as they want you to believe, they must be terrible at sourcing and manufacturing.

Now the consumer-protecting publications are saying consumers should be cautious: What is sold in outlets is NOT first quality merchandise like they want you believe, but shoes and apparel made for the outlets that are lesser quality but share the same “quality” brand. My wife of 53 years says this is very obvious if you truly know what you are buying.

Maybe we can’t handle the truth, but if consumers are being taught when shopping that outlets for other products are NOT first quality as is sold in the better stores that only sell the recognized brands, should we use the word “outlet” as much as we do?

Are we implying we are selling second-quality furnishings? Are we telling the consumer to ask for deeper discounts?

Do I have a clue about all this?

See also: Challenges abound for economists trying to make sensible predictions | Jerry Epperson


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