Bargains galore fresh from the factory

They may be an American idea, but out-of-town shopping malls with permanent sales are catching on here, writes Clifford German
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Napoleon called us a nation of shopkeepers, and the Victorians gloried in the pursuit of trade and commerce, but by the 1950s trade was a dirty word in polite society, and no self-respecting professional man or woman took any interest in it or the people who practised it.

Now the wheel has turned full circle once again and men as well as women and whole families will get in their cars and travel miles in pursuit of a bargain.

Every weekend car boot sales cater for the newly discovered appetite of Middle England for a bargain, while serious shopping addicts can visit factory outlets, which combine the attractions of numerous specialist stores all holding simultaneous permanent sales side-by-side in out-of- town shopping malls.

Factory outlets have come a long way from the original farm shop or store selling direct to the public on the factory premises. Factory outlets nowadays are inevitably another American concept which has crossed the Atlantic to the UK. Clarks the shoe shop pioneered the first UK factory shopping village at Street in Somerset in 1993. According to a pocket guide produced by Visa Delta there are now 13 factory outlet centres around the country, four in the south of England, and eight in the North, and one in Scotland, offering quality goods at discount prices conveniently under one roof.

The centres range from the Galleria near Hatfield, which serves London and the South-east, to Freeport Scotland, Freeport Fleetwood and Freeport Hornsea. Then there are the more exotically named Cheshire Oaks at Ellesmere Port, Jacksons Landing at Hartlepool Marina, Merchants Quay at Brighton Marina, and Rollingstock on Merseyside; and the more prosaic Lightwater Village near Ripon, Clarks Village, K Village in Kendal, Bicester Village in Oxfordshire, and the positively downbeat Yorkshire in Doncaster. The next site to open will be near Swindon, strategically located off the M4.

The Galleria opened in 1991 as an upmarket shopping mall at a cost of pounds 160m, but the middle of the recession was the worst possible time to launch an upmarket concept. The mall went bankrupt within a few months of opening, and the continuing recession forced a drastic rethink before it was relaunched. The Galleria is now described as the country's largest indoor outlet centre. Some of the original high- street stores are still there but 80 per cent of the space is taken by around 50 outlets and "off-price" stores on two levels. It attracted more than 3 million shoppers last year. It also has a nine-screen cinema complex and recently played host to an international squash tournament.

The centres are run by manufacturers and retailers, and specialise in selling last season's surplus stock, slow selling lines, seconds, cancelled orders and discontinued lines at prices way below high-street retail prices. They include clothes and footwear, furniture, pottery and glass, sports goods and toys, books and travel goods.

Brand names range from Adidas and Armani to Laura Ashley, Benetton, Black & Decker, Burtons, Christian Lacroix, Damart, Dorothy Perkins, Doulton, Edinburgh Crystal, French Connection, Jaeger, Next, Planet, Simpsons of Piccadilly, Toyworld and Wrangler.

The clothes and products sold will not necessarily be current retail merchandise, so shoppers should not expect the height of current fashion. Clothes and shoes will not necessarily be the most fashionable colours or the most popular sizes. But they will be cheaper, anything up to 50 per cent off prices in the high street. Price tags show the original and the offer prices for comparison.

Goods also come with all the statutory shoppers' rights and guarantees, although the sponsors warn that it may not be quite so easy as it will be on conventional high-street sites to take an item back and exchange it for a different size or colour some time later. Full guarantees apply on items such as electrical appliances and shoppers should make sure they get the appropriate guarantee card.

The centres also offer a range of services including free parking, leisure areas, children's play areas, baby-changing facilities, banking services and restaurants, and they are open seven days a week, typically from 10am to 6pm.

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