Since starting a new, higher-paying job a few months ago, I have (hesitantly, perhaps even unwillingly) started shopping again. The most immediate and pressing thing that I noticed is that prices are higher now than they were when I more or less stopped shopping five years ago. The next thing that I noticed is that it is pretty addictive. I'm vowing to slow down after the holidays and a trip to Iceland in late January. This may well coincide with the end of my higher-paying job, so it's probably good that I plan ahead.
Regardless, I've recently been shopping primarily at outlets and online, and have yet to make one stop at a proper indoor mall. Outlets, for the most part, are different than they were when I was younger, and from what I think they were intended to be. I remember going to Woodbury Commons (our closest outlet mall, and the primary one for New York City dwellers) and finding lots of clothes missing buttons or with the wrong tags or slight damage. It was a place for cast-off items at pretty low prices. You could sew on a new button or try to remove a stain or what have you, and you were making sure that well-made clothes didn't go to waste.
It seems to be a little different now, and while we did find some stores that had last year's styles (The North Face, Kate Spade, Williams-Sonoma) or slightly damaged goods (Fossil, Crate & Barrel [and LL Bean, apparently]), many simply had cheaper versions of the clothes currently in stores (Gap, J. Crew were both big on that, although I did see some of last year's clothes at Gap). Although I'm always a fan of affordable things, the point of most high-end retail stores is to have well-made clothes that will last a long time, and a cheaper version of those clothes isn't any better than the clothes that start out cheaper. Additionally, outlets are usually outdoor malls, which can get cold, or, if you were at Woodbury Commons on Sunday, icy. Very, very icy and actually a little dangerous. Although most of the stores were very calm, there were long lines outside Coach and Ugg.
One benefit to shopping at an outlet mall is that they are really meant to be for smart shoppers, so there are plenty of coupons online, as well as a large book of them that can be found at the information booth (with a coupon online). Also, being outside allowed for more movement space, and also meant that they weren't blasting Christmas carols, so it never felt overwhelming, the way being inside a normal mall or on Fifth Avenue or in SoHo can. Overall, I would say that the experience was more enjoyable than it would have been at an indoor mall, and I'd like to check out an LL Bean and an Under Armour outlet sometime in the future, after the holidays but before going to Iceland.