Designer retail outlets – are they worth the schlep?

If you live near Bicester, Gretna, York or any of the UK’s other outlet villages and have a penchant for designer goods, it’s likely I’m preaching to the choir. If you can’t resist a bargain, maybe it’s time you planned a trip to one.

Designer brands are by definition not MoneySaving. But if you’re a slave to labels and you visit one of these places at the right time of year, it could mean walking away with designer goods at prices that’d make Harrods regulars weep into their foie gras.

I went for the first time just after Christmas last year, when, living off turkey, brie and cranberry sandwiches and with egg nog coursing through my veins, it was time to brave the sales. My mum doesn’t live too far from Bicester Village shopping outlet so we decided to venture out to see what all the fuss was about. Bicester is already cheaper than department stores but in the summer and Christmas sales you can benefit from an extra 20% off plenty of items. I can’t speak for any of the other outlets around the country but I imagine they follow a similar model.

Now I’ve never been one to rush out on Boxing Day in a state of delirium buying stuff for the sake of it, but if I need something specific I’d rather pick it up in a sale. Oxford Street is a thoroughly unpleasant experience at the best of times; I have to say my first experience of Bicester was decidedly acceptable.

There’s plenty of parking if you’re driving and there are trains from London and Birmingham for as little as £14 return. There are also luxury coaches which do pick-ups from many Heathrow and central London hotels for £28 return.

It’s best to get there early not least to grab the best bargains but by lunchtime the village can resemble the inside of a popular commuter train at rush hour. I recommend arriving no later than 10am if you want a decent browse. If you’re not going solo, split up – the last thing you need is a passenger when you’re knee deep in Jimmy Choo shoes. I also recommend planning ahead: look at the outlet’s website and decide where you want to go. Most will have a shop map so you can plan a route and avoid going back on yourself.

I made a beeline for Ralph Lauren; it’s one the most popular stores and things go quick. My mum and sister went hunting for handbags.

Three hours later we’d had enough. It’d got really busy and we’d built up quite the appetite, so we broke for lunch and to assess the damage. Although we’d all bought more than intended we were very smug with what we’d managed to pick up at scandalous prices.

  • From Ralph Lauren I picked up a wool cable knit jumper for £35… these retail for at least £100; button down shirts were £25 each, retailing at £85; polo shirts £20, RRP £65; and hoodies for £35, RRP £109.
  • From Diesel I swiped some jeans for £49, RRP £120.
  • From Ted Baker I bagged a blazer for £111 which would usually cost at least £300.
  • And Mum grabbed a Mulberry handbag for £600, RRP £1,250, and a DKNY handbag for £79, which would normally cost almost £200.

It’s not just limited to clothes and handbags either – you can pick up discounted homeware and jewellery too. When savings are this great it’s difficult to rein it in, so make sure you set yourself an affordable budget and stick to it. Remember the money mantras…


  • Do I need it?
  • Can I afford it?

Not Skint?

  • Will I use it?
  • Is it worth it?

What’s the catch I hear you cry? The items are generally from last season and so couldn’t be sold in regular stores, but there’s also been talk of goods specifically manufactured for these outlets. There are claims that some of these items aren’t of the same quality as you’d find in a traditional store, but this is yet to be proven and I’ve not noticed any difference.