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Shop 'Til You Drop - Outlet Shopping

Once upon a time, “factory outlets” were just that — small shops located in or near the factory where seconds, rejects, overruns, and discontinued lines could be sold, at a discount, directly to the public. Factory outlets existed outside the standard retail channels and were a classic win/win proposition: The public got a bargain and the factory recouped at least some of its costs.

Today, factory outlets have become very much a part of the retail scene, located far from the factory in glossy malls and often featuring merchandise specifically designed for and marketed to the bargain-hunting segment of the market. And the words “Factory Outlet” have become a marketing buzzword used to suggest deep, deep discounts, whether they are there or not. Some factory outlets are run directly by the companies whose merchandise they sell. Others are run by entrepreneurs who contract with big name companies and then set their own prices. Still others are run by merchants who buy cheap merchandise from a variety of off-cost producers or from brokers who specialize in overstocked and “distressed” goods. All of which is to say that, when it comes to factory outlet shopping, the warning “caveat emptor” (let the buyer beware) is in full force. On the other hand, I do not mean to suggest that the outlet malls in the Orlando area are filled with shady operators out to fleece the unwary tourist. Far from it. Most of these outlets offer excellent deals on first-rate goods and any factory seconds or irregulars are clearly marked. Still, a wise shopper will arrive with a clear idea of what he or she is looking for and what the “going rate” for those items is back home.

What follows is a survey of the major factory outlet shopping venues in the Orlando area. Conveniently enough, most of them are located along International Drive in Orlando. I have listed them in the order you would encounter them when traveling from north to south along this well-traveled tourist corridor and then south to Kissimmee. The list is not meant to be all-inclusive. You may find other bona-fide outlets. On the other hand, there are many shops that use the words “factory outlet” rather loosely.

Prime Outlets
Location: 5401 West Oak Ridge Road, at the north end of International Drive, in Orlando
Information: (407) 352-9600
Hours: Monday to Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.; Sunday 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Prime Outlets is the 900-pound gorilla of the outlet scene with two malls and several “annexes,” including an upscale shopping area just a short hop down International Drive. The sprawling complex plays host to some 170 merchants. Stop by Guest Services first to pick up a list of today’s unadvertised special bargains. Like any self-respecting mall, this one features food courts and snack kiosks to refuel the flagging shopper. There are also games and rides for the kiddies.

Orlando Premium Outlets
Location: 8200 Vineland Avenue, off International Drive just south of SeaWorld
Information: (407) 238-7787
Hours: Monday to Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.; Sunday 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

The newest entry in the outlet shopping sweepstakes boasts 110 stores representing such upscale vendors as Brooks Brothers, Armani, Versace, and Burberry, plus a central food court with its own Starbucks. Register online for the VIP Club for extra savings or to check out current specials offered by mall merchants.

Lake Buena Vista Factory Stores
Location: 15591 SR 535, 2 miles south of I-4 Exit 68
Information: (407) 238-9301
Hours: Monday to Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.; Sunday 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
This mall of more than 40 shops is located on the well traveled state road that links I-4 to US 192. There’s a small food court if you get hungry and a playground for the kids. They offer free shuttle service from nearly 50 participating local hotels.

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