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Five Tips for Off-Retail Bargain Hunting at Winners

03/11/2013 05:31 EDT | Updated 05/11/2013 05:12 EDT
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I'm a huge fan of high quality, well-made, designer clothing and accessories. Unfortunately my wallet doesn't always allow me to indulge as often as I'd like. Luckily, whenever I'm unable to splurge, I have the option of shopping at one of the local off-price retailers.

If you're not familiar with the term, off-price retailers, such as the TJX stores (Winners, Marshalls and HomeSense in Canada), provide the same name brands and merchandise as department stores but at a discounted price.

Offshoots such as Holt Renfrew's HR2 (opening this March at Quartier DIX30 in Montreal and April at Vaughan Mills, just North of Toronto) or Nordstrom's Nordstrom Rack (currently only south of the border) are also considered off-price retailers. These types of stores typically offer lower priced alternatives, secondary or private labels, excess inventory and/or clearance items.

So how does someone like me, who enjoys the finer things, manage to stay current and on trend while still maintaining my budget? The key is to know when and how to shop both regular and off-price retail.

Shopping retail is rather straightforward. For the most part, unless there's a special promo, you're pretty much guaranteed that new arrivals are current and on trend and discounted items have been sitting in the store for some time. Most retailers have end-of-season sales to clear out items for upcoming seasonal stock.

Shopping off-price is a whole 'nother ball game. New items can arrive daily and you're never sure whether they're overstock, have slight imperfections or are from previous seasons. And unless you're quite familiar with the designers, what's on trend or what's to come, it can be quite difficult to know what to buy.

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Goodwill Shopping Trip (PHOTOS)

If you're new to off-price retail, here are my five tips to getting the most out of your shopping experience:

1. Know What's In and What's Out

If you happen to be trend-conscious or want to look current, then you need to know which trends are in and which ones are out. This can be as simple as buying a few of the latest fashion magazines or doing some research online. Once you know what's what, it's easy to know which pieces to purchase and which ones to pass.

2. Check for Irregularities

Always check for irregularities or damages. While most items are probably fine, it doesn't hurt to check seams, buttons, clasps or for discoloration. It's better to find out in-store, than to take the item home, wash it, wear it and then be unable to return it.

3. Try Before You Buy

Unless you're one of those people who buy first and then try items on at home, definitely try before you buy. Don't assume that sizing is universal. Sizing discrepancies can be even more common in an off-price store than anywhere else.

4. Feel the Love

I only mention this because so many of my clients (including myself) are guilty of it: unless you absolutely love it or it looks amazing on, don't buy it. I don't care if it only costs $10 -- if it's not the right piece for you, you probably won't wear it. Regardless of how much you save, it's still $10 that could be better spent somewhere else.

5. Have Patience

Shopping off-price often requires the patience of a saint. Some days you might find yourself digging through the racks for hours, coming up empty handed and other times you might walk in and find three amazing items all within the first 15 minutes. Be prepared to hunt -- it might just be worth your while. There's nothing better than finding that perfect piece at a fraction of the price.

Here are a couple of bonus tips -- some other things to consider when hitting off-price retailers:

· If you see something, grab it. Once it's in your hands or in your cart, it's yours (unless someone steals it out of your cart and yes, it has happened). If you're not sure, think about it while holding on to it or try it on, but do not, I repeat, do not leave it on the rack.

· Shop regularly and shop often. With new items arriving almost daily, unless you shop on a regular basis and shop often, you might miss out on some of the best deals.

There are times, of course, when nothing less than retail will do. If you're looking for something specific or don't have the time to spend at an off-price retailer, then standard retail is the way to go.

On the other hand, if you have the time, are looking for something really unique or want to purchase designer duds at discount prices, then nothing beats off-price. Take it from a regular shopaholic -- the more you save, the more you get to shop.