Is outlet shopping the bargain you think it is?

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - For many of us, there's a certain thrill that comes with finding a bargain while out shopping. Outlet stores can provide a shopping junkie with a serious fix.

But is outlet shopping the bargain we think it is?

Whether shopping for high-end purses or clothes or athletic gear, patience doesn't always pay off when waiting for your favorite jeans or top to end up in the outlet.

We went shopping, undercover, to investigate whether what you find at the outlets really does offer you significant savings over what you can get in the same brand's retail store. What we learned might surprise you.

While the discounts are deep, we've learned that companies ship entirely different product lines to retail and outlet stores.

"People think it is the exact same product that's coming from the store in retail going into the outlet. They don't know the difference," said Alease McClenningham, a professor of fashion at the Art Institute of Charlotte.

The Gap, Ann Taylor, Coach, Banana Republic, and countless other retailers do the same.

Bottom line, if you think waiting long enough means the thing you love in the retail store will end up in the outlet, you should think again.

We purchased a pair of jeans and a top at the Gap store in the Arboretum in South Charlotte, and a similar outfit at the Gap Outlet in Concord Mills. Then we brought the clothes to McClenningham.

She says you can immediately tell the difference without taking the clothes out of the bags.

"You can tell they spent more on one bag over another and that means you will be paying more in the store," she said.

In fact, upon close inspection, quality is the biggest difference between the two outfits.

"Special loops and tags and buttons, extra details on the retail clothing that you don't see on the outlet clothing," McClenningham added.

The lesson is a different line can mean a different level of quality. You may pay more in the retail store but McClenningham says you'll get more for your money.

"It is a better value to spend a couple of dollars more on something that will last longer than this tearing up at the end of the season," she told us.

We took our findings to The Gap and they sent us this statement from Sean Piazza, a Gap spokesperson;

"Gap Factory stores are just one way we extend our brands to a broader customer base, and serve as another expression of the Gap brand. Our Gap Factory clothing is designed and created specifically for our Gap Factory stores. Our customer is deal savvy and shopping at Gap Factory for value —we design and create collections with this specific shopper in mind, and our Factory collections reflect this with styles found only in these locations."

"It's a chance for these stores and companies to get their brand name out to a wider audience and they know they'll charge less for these products. Ultimately the money consumers spend all goes to the same place, so they win," McClenningham said.

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