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Outlet shopping: Are you getting the deal you think you are?

Malls will be packed this holiday season with people looking for great holiday Outlet malls would like you to think they're your best choice, but as Patrice Sanders shows us -- what you don't know could hurt you.

BALTIMORE (WBFF) -- Malls will be packed this holiday season with people looking for great sales and deals.

Outlet malls would like you to think they're your best choice, but as Patrice Sanders shows us -- what you don't know could hurt you.

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‘Tis the season to spread holiday cheer and for many that means shopping for friends and loved ones.

Of course you want to stay on budget and make sure you get good deals.

So that may mean going to the outlet stores.

Consumer advocacy group Maryland PIRG says: buyer beware!

Most people think an outlet store means you're buying items that didn't sell in the traditional store at really cheap prices.

But that's almost never the case.

“85% or more of the items sold in outlet stores were never in the brand store,” Juliana Bilowich says. “They were produced specifically for the outlet store at low quality.”

In some stores none of the merchandise comes from the traditional store. Stores even use different labels to distinguish that it's an outlet-only item and the price tag doesn't always tell the whole story either.

You see the price you'll pay but it's compared to a significantly higher price, making you think you're getting a deal.

Not quite.

The "compare to" price isn't based on anything. It's made up, since that item would never sell anywhere for the higher price.

“So what happens is we pay too much because the product was never actually that expensive,” Bilowich says.

FOX45 decided to do a little shopping for ourselves at a local outlet mall and at a traditional mall, then we took our items to a fashion expert to compare the quality and styles of what we bought.

Ella Pritskar has been designing custom clothing for more than 20 years and she reviewed the items one by one.

First there were jeans from the gap outlet versus Gap store. She noticed several differences from stitching to styling to labeling and, from a quality standpoint, she favored the traditional store jean.

“I like the color, the washing on the jean,” Pritskar said. “I also liked the stitching was so much more uniform.”

The price difference: $70 for the Gap jean and $50 for the outlet brand--marked down to $25.

The same differences were true of shirts we bought there and a comparison of blazers found differences with stitching, pocket design, seams and even buttons.

Even with the superior quality, the brand store blazer cost just $10 more.

When they first sprung up in the 1980's, outlet stores really were the dinged, dented or blemished items not sold in the retail store. As they grew in popularity, the stores had to keep up with merchandise, so they started making items just for the outlet.

In the outlet malls as we know them today not every store is even a discount store. Some sell the same merchandise at the same price they do in traditional stores.

It only takes 50% of stores in the mall to be discount stores for it to be considered an outlet mall.

While it is still possible to get a deal, experts say: Do your homework.

A simple Google search or phone call to the store can answer your question about the type of product you’re getting. The stores will tell you whether their items are made specifically for the outlet.

Also, ask about return policy. If you can't return it to a traditional store, it's likely an outlet brand.

Do some homework on prices -- know what the items sells for at a retail store before going to the outlets and sign up for mailing lists.

You'll get even deeper discounts which could make those items worth it.

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