Have you scrolled through Facebook and received an ad for an online outlet store for one of your favorite retailers? Do the prices look too good to be true? How can you tell if this site is an authorized outlet for the brand or a scam? Below, I share tips on how to know if that outlet store is a scam.
Many of these tips also work for those online shopping sites with products and prices that look sketchy but have great deals. Be an informed consumer. Take a few minutes to do some research before buying, and you may save yourself from a scam.
How to Know if that Outlet Store is Fake
When shopping online, it's hard to know if what you've found is a legit deal, or if it's a scam. There are many tools to help you determine the legitimacy of a website, but also some visual cues that even the least techie online shopper can use to recognize a fake outlet or scam site.
Below, my tips for determining if an outlet store is fake are geared towards those of us who love the internet, but don't necessarily understand how it works. You don't need a degree with my tips to figure out whether that website deserves your hard-earned money or if it will steal your identity and the contents of your bank account.
Do your homework before shopping for any new website and look out for red flags. Scammers are savvy; it may not be immediately obvious, but the tips below may help prevent you from being their next victim.
First, Do a Quick Cursory View of the Site
Is the Outlet Site's Branding the Same as the Parent Company?
No respectable retailer (AKA parent company) would have different branding on their outlet site. Authorized outlets will not just have the same logo, but the same font, same color of font, and usually the same website design. Let's use Coach and its authorized outlet store as an example.
Above, I have a collage with a screenshot of the Coach website homepage, after tapping the “women” category in the navigation bar. Below, the Coach Outlet website homepage, also after tapping “women” in the navigation bar. Same website design, same fonts, same everything.
It's easy to replicate a logo; it's harder to replicate fonts and website design. This consistency is a green flag and tells you it is likely an authorized outlet site for the parent company.
Look for a favicon
If you are on a desktop or laptop and have more than one tab open in your browser, you will see that most have a little graphic on the tab. That graphic matches the branding of the company. This is called a favicon. For example, this site has a black circle with “WO2” in it, which stands for Wardrobe Oxygen.
A legit shopping site would have a favicon. On top of that, outlet stores often have the same favicon as the parent company, or a variation of the same favicon. For example, Banana Republic Factory and Banana Republic have the same favicon of a white rectangle with BR inside it.
Above in the collage, you see that the supposed MOTHER Denim outlet site does not have a favicon, just an initial. When looking at the tab in a browser, all you see is the generic globe favicon that represents any website.
How is the Grammar?
An established retailer would have a second set of eyes on the site before it goes live, looking for grammatical errors, spelling errors, and typos. Before a legitimate online store is available, the draft version will be seen by techs, project managers, branding managers, and sometimes contractors or outside vendors to ensure usability and that all typos are fixed.
For this, I will use the site “OutletsOff” as an example. This is a site that regularly advertises on Facebook that it has brands like Talbots, Eileen Fisher, and Ann Taylor for up to 90% off. Any site that offers brand names for less would need to be an authorized seller. Think T.J.Maxx or RueLaLa. No legit brand will partner with a site that misses glaring typos.
I scrolled to the bottom of the homepage to learn more about the site and found several errors. Notice there is a space missing between “save” and the amount saved. Exchange isn't capitalized in the menu, and there is a space missing between “partner” and “program.” Terms and conditions is plural, but return and exchange is not. To have that many errors in just the footer? HUGE red flag.
What is the Return Policy?
While authorized outlets often have more stringent of return policies than its parent company, there will still be information on what to do in case you receive a damaged item. Any outlet store will inform you whether you are able to return the purchase to a brick-and-mortar version of the outlet store or to the parent company's stores.
If the return policy is confusing, convoluted, or contradictory, that is a red flag. Again, typos and grammatical errors are a red flag. Not having a way to contact the company for return policy exceptions or questions is a red flag. Above is a screenshot from the OutletsOff website. Typos, convoluted policies, weird formatting, and no way to contact customer service are a whole host of red flags.
Some sites have a return policy that appears to be for a completely different website. I visited the return policy for the supposed MOTHER Denim outlet store, and the return policy was for APMX and discusses precious metals and risks of money laundering. What the heck does that have to do with a pair of discounted jeans? HUGE red flag.
Next, Use Online Tools To Determine Legitimacy
View Site Information
This step will make you feel super techy. Look at the top of the browser where the URL for the site is. Depending on your browser, you will see a lock or you will see an icon to gather more information. Click that. At a minimum, there should be a padlock icon stating that the site is secure. But these days, that is not enough.
Click to see the certificate, or click where it states the certificate is valid. The information on the certificate should be for the retailer. If it is all hidden or information for a different company, do not shop there. If the information is specific to the website and not the brand, that is a major red flag.
Run the URL through Scam Adviser
Scam Adviser (https://www.scamadviser.com/) is a free tool where you can drop the link to any website and find out if it's sketchy and why. Still using this MOTHER outlet site as an example; below is a screenshot of its results on Scam Adviser.
I know the font on this screenshot is small so a quick recap: the supposed MOTHER denim outlet has a slightly low trust score. While it's set up to sell product and the SSL certificate is valid, the website owner is hiding its identity on WHOIS with a paid service, the site is served from a high risk location with many low rated sites on the same server, several spammers and scammers use the same registrar, and the site is very new.
This isn't enough to determine a site is a scam, but it's definitely a red flag.
Run the URL through ICANN
In general, an outlet site will have website registration data as a parent website. ICANN (https://lookup.icann.org/en/lookup) is a tool where you can look up information about a site, and you can compare information to the parent company.
Again, I am using MOTHER denim and the supposed MOTHER denim outlet as an example. Above are screenshots from ICANN of the MOTHER official website and the supposed MOTHER outlet site. Both have privacy tools enabled (heck, I use these myself for Wardrobe Oxygen), but notice how the MOTHER site has the name of the privacy company, contact info and an address while the “outlet” site has everything hidden. That's a red flag for sure.
Still Not Sure if That Outlet Store is Fake?
If you've gone this far and are still not sure if that online shop or outlet store is fake, go to the source. Contact the parent company. Use their customer service chat feature on their website, or send them a DM on social media and ask! No retailer wants you to be scammed by a site pretending to be them. They will be happy you asked, and will do their part to shut that scam site down.
You Didn't Include the Tip I Use to Check to See if a Site is a Scam
When researching this article, I read other articles on how to be safe when shopping and found a lot of their suggestions are dated. For example, all of the scam websites I visited had a certificate, and they all were https not http. Scammers are constantly looking for new ways to be successful; it's important to keep up to date with their tactics.
I find the visual cues I shared above are more reliable than a lot of the old suggestions. However, I believe the more help the better. If you have a suggestion on how to check for a scam site that I do not include above, please share in the comments!
Authorized Fashion Outlet Stores
I am as excited for a deal as you. Below I share some of my favorite authorized fashion outlet stores. These are online stores that have great deals and are not scams. You will find great style for less and sleep well at night knowing it is a legitimate purchase!
- Banana Republic Factory: The same aesthetic at Banana Republic, but with budget-friendly fabrics and details to lower the price. I personally find the fit better at BR Factory than the parent company!
- Ways to know it's legit: It links to Banana Republic in the top navigation on the site, it has the same website design and branding as the regular Banana Republic site, The Gap owns the site certificate, and there are several ways to contact customer service.
- Coach Outlet: A mix of simpler items designed specifically for the outlet and clearance items from Coach, this is a trusted destination for lower-priced Coach products.
- Gap Factory: Just like Banana Republic (which is under the Gap, Inc. umbrella), Gap Factory provides apparel in the same aesthetic as Gap, but just made more simply to be able to offer it at a lower price. I have had mixed experiences with Gap Factory, but find it a great place for basics for the whole family.
- Ways to know it's legit: It links to Gap.com in the top navigation on the site, it has the same website design and branding as the regular Gap site, The Gap owns the site certificate, and there are several ways to contact customer service.
- J. Crew Factory: The same aesthetic as J. Crew, but designed more simply to offer the look for less.
- Ways to know it's legit: it links to J. Crew in the footer, it has the same website design and branding as the regular J. Crew site, J. Crew International owns the site certificate, and there are several ways to contact customer service.
- Kate Spade Outlet: Like many popular labels, the Kate Spade Outlet offers clearance merchandise from previous seasons as well as more budget-friendly pieces created specifically for the outlet.
- Nordstrom Rack: Essentially a clearance rack for Nordstrom, you can find great brands for great prices at “The Rack” but shop quickly because items are limited!
- Ways to know it's legit: it links to Nordstrom in the footer, it has the same website design and favicon as the regular Nordstrom site, Nordstrom owns the site certificate, you use the same login for the Nordstrom site
- REI Outlet: Outdoor gear and apparel for much less, the REI Outlet has last season's merch for great prices.
- Ways to know it's legit: The REI Outlet is the same URL as REI, just a part of the site dedicated to their clearance or “outlet” merchandise. The certificate is owned by Recreational Equipment, Inc., and you can use the same REI tools like your Co-op number at the outlet.
- Saks OFF Fifth: Like Nordstrom Rack, Off Fifth is a place to shop for the clearance merchandise and last season's pieces from Saks Fifth Avenue. And like Nordstrom Rack, selection is limited, so shop before it is out of stock!
- Ways to know it's legit: You can use and apply for the Saks credit card on the site, the site certificate is owned by Hudson's Bay (parent company), it links to brick-and-mortar stores, and the Terms and Conditions connect to Saks.
If you have additional questions on how to know if an outlet store is fake, if a shopping website is a scam, or you have a favorite authorized outlet or factory store you wish to share, please let me know in the comments!