Thursday, November 25, 2010

Big retailers tailor outlets to shoppers' frugal tastes

BALTIMORE — Shoppers with upscale tastes but shallow pockets are finding more choices with a recent resurgence in outlet and off-price stores being rolled out by major retailers.
Discount shopping isn't new. Bargain shoppers have trekked to outlet malls for decades seeking discounts. Stores like TJ Maxx and Marshalls, who buy leftover goods from department stores and other places and sell them at a markdown, have prospered during the weak economy.

But retailers are discovering new opportunities in discount and outlet shopping as frugal consumers are being more careful about what they spend and retailers are looking for ways to grow.

Neiman Marcus opened a new concept it calls Last Call Studio in Rockville, Md., last week. The off-price boutique offers this season's designer goods at up to a 65 percent discount. It is able to offer the prices by buying overstock directly from manufacturers. It also recently launched, an off-price website.

The studio store is different from its outlet stores, Neiman Marcus Last Call, which also offer goods at bargain prices, but are much larger and sell older merchandise.

Tom Lind, senior vice president of stores and store operations for Neiman Marcus, said the retailer is targeting shoppers who might not have time to make a regular trip to an outlet mall, which are typically 30 miles or more from major cities. Now, they can shop the discounts on a weekly basis, rather than four or five times a year, Lind said. The company also hopes to tap into a whole new customer base that might not think they can afford Neiman Marcus.

"The off-price segment is one of the healthier retail segments, and we saw this void," Lind said.

Other retailers are also jumping on the outlet and discount trend.

Macy's launched an outlet for its Bloomingdale's chain this year and is exploring whether to open Macy's outlets, as well. Ann Taylor Stores announced last month that it will expand its factory outlet footprint in 2011 with plans to open 35 LOFT Outlet Stores and five Ann Taylor Factory Stores. It plans to take over locations occupied by Liz Claiborne, which is closing stores. Ann Taylor now has about 110 outlet stores.

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