One of my most prized pieces of clothing is a pair of SS15 metallic and wooden Prada sandals that I picked up for a mere $50 at the Assembly outlet mall in Boston. And as you’re sitting here reading this, I’m sure you can think of a time where you too experienced the euphoric high of finding a hidden diamond in an outlet somewhere. But do you know that our bargain-driven shopping habits are changing the retail landscape?
The first modern multi-store outlet centre in the world opened in 1974 in the US. Today, from America to Tokyo, fashion-conscious consumers are increasingly turning to outlet villages for their luxury purchases, and why wouldn’t they? Selling branded products for 75% below high street retail prices, they’re the ideal marketplace for young and old customers alike who are in search of attractive bargains. But their increased popularity is causing a sting in the tail of the retail industry, causing a period of retail reshuffle.
Outlets were once considered a risky venture by economists, but socio-economic shifts over time mean that our shopping patterns and habits are changing – and continue to do so. Pre-recession spending was lucrative and negligent, but when the post-Celtic Tiger momentum had stopped consumers needed cheaper alternatives, and outlets were to be the answer. And even though outlet shopping was a new retail format during the many recessions we’ve encountered, they proved their value; having survived and sustained through tough economic times because of the discount angle, while other established brands floundered.
And it’s not just retailers like GAP, Tommy Hilfiger, J.Crew, Furla, and Guess who have jumped on the outlet train; high-end retailers including Armani, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana and Burberry have all embraced the market, which, as a young woman inspired by and a part of the fashion culture, finding cheaper alternatives and luxury markdowns are priority (and a luxury in itself).
They’re commercially viable, too, with lower rental rates and lease times than, say, traditional retail spaces in the city centre. In turn, this means that it’s driving shoppers away from city-centre based shopping hotspots resulting in closures, declining sales, and job losses. Only this month the Ralph Lauren Flagship store on Fifth Avenue close because of competing with outlet prices and online shopping. It’s undoubtedly a cause of concern for other retailers – especially independent retailers in smaller markets like our own.
With that being said, some exclusive brands are opting out of the outlet experience for fears of “tainting” luxury brands by offering discounts on products marketed for exclusivity. For example, luxury fashion house Gucci opened it’s doors in the Kildare Village Outlets in July 2015, but by January 2017 they were gone because it “didn’t fit the brand identity”, according to sources. It’s a subtle reminder that the fashion industry continues to chase exclusivity and market their products towards those who have the most money. Brands like Gucci, Hermes, and Chanel are not interested in accessibility but rather exclusivity; making them all the more desirable.
As it stands, outlet shopping parks haven’t yet made the anchors of the high-street retail ship drop to a shattering halt, but with our growing desire to seek out cheaper clothing and sport lux labels, it’s certainly beginning to budge. Without a doubt, we’re going to see a major shift in consumer shopping and retail trends in the next few years, especially with the continued growth of internet shopping and budget retailing.
As for me, as long as there are outlets providing me with budget-friendly Prada, I’ll continue to shop them as my quest for Instagram-worthy outfits goes on…