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Italy is one of the world’s premier shopping destinations with an incredible range of famous brands and a long standing tradition of producing superb leatherware, top fashion items and a huge selection of locally crafted jewelry, clothing as well as unique arts and crafts.
No matter what you’re looking for, you can find it in Italy, although to save yourself money and hassle while you shop in the country there are a few vital things you need to know so you can shop like a local instead of a tourist!
Italian Clothing Sizes Are Different From The United States.
When you’re shopping for clothes in Italy it can be very confusing to understand the way that the clothes are labelled. For a start, Italian clothes are measured in centimeters instead of inches, but if you just remember that 1 inch equals approximately 2.5cm you’ll be able to do the conversions using the calculator on your phone.
Most larger clothes retailers have adapted to the international markets and now size their items using international labels that are equivalent to the United States and other parts of Europe; so you’ll still see the usual S (small), M (medium), L (large), XL (extra large) and so on in the large retailers.
Smaller retailers and individual tailors will still be using centimeters and might have their own sizing labels but they will be happy to measure you to make sure you find clothes that fit.
When you’re buying shoes you’ll usually find that they are sized with both US and EU sizes; certainly when you are buying a large international brand such as Nike or Adidas. However, when you’re buying locally made sandals or loafers you won’t find these sizes – they will usually be sized in European sizes – so you may need to try them on first to find out what European size fits your feet.
Know The Regional Specialities.
Each region and province in Italian has long traditions in making specific types of products, souvenirs, clothing and shoes. While you are in Italy you should try to take advantage of the regional specialities; not only because you’ll get a wider range of choices but the prices will be cheaper than if you bought the items elsewhere.
Shopping in different regions by specialty will also allow you to track down local creators of the items who can offer you better prices, higher quality and let you do your part in supporting the local economy.
For instance, if you want to buy clothes you should be looking in Rome, Milan or Turin while Florence, in Tuscany, is famous for its superior leather products, including jackets, shoes and belts.
Meanwhile, each region has its own types of souvenirs; for example the Amalfi coast is famous for its incredible ceramics, Tuscany is well known for its incredible wines – particularly Montepulcianio and Venice for its unique Murano glass artwork.
Learn Some Basic Italian Phrases.
As you travel around Italy you will find that many people outside of the major cities don’t speak fluent English; and in many cases in smaller towns many locals will speak no English at all!
To help you make the most of the potential of shopping in Italy, especially when buying from local artisans and markets, you can learn a few basic phrases in Italian to smooth over your experience. On top of this, if you make the effort to learn a few phrases local sellers will treat you with more respect and are more likely to be willing to negotiate the price down a little as well!
A few useful words that you might see on shop signs that you should be aware of include:
- Aperto = Open.
- Chiuso = Closed.
- Saldi = Sales.
- Meta Prezzo = Half Price.
- Quanto Costa? = How much does it cost?
- Mi scusi, vendetta…? = Excuse me, do you sell….?
- Dove sono i camerini? = Where are the fitting rooms?
- Pago in contanti. = I can pay in cash.
- Posso avere una ricevuta? = Can I have a receipt?
- Per Favore = Please
- Grazie = Thank you.
The more Italian that you can learn during your stay in Italy the easier it will be to get around the country, shop in smaller towns and get the most from your experiences in the country. It’s also fun to learn a new language and try it out as you go about your daily tasks in Italy.
Always Check If The Products Are Made In Italy.
It’s easy to assume that products which have labels in Italian are made in Italy however this is often not the case! Many items are made in Asia and imported to Italy with an Italian label!
To get the best of Italian products – which are usually a much higher quality than those items which are made in Asia by cheap labor – you should make sure the items are actually made in the country. To be sure about the origin of the product you should look out for the official ‘Made in Italy’ certification that is guaranteed by Italian law. Legally speaking, a product has to be produced in at least two stages of its creation to be considered genuinely Italian – this refers mainly to clothes, leatherware, shoes as well as arts and crafts.
Locally made products will tend to be a little more expensive however their quality and durability make it worth the extra cost since they will last you for years.
Make Sure You Understand the Return Policies.
Unlike in other parts of the world, when you’re shopping from stores and markets in Italy you don’t necessarily have a right to return the items if you are not satisfied! Technically speaking, under the European Union laws which also apply in Italy, it is up to the seller of the products and their own discretion to decide on whether or not to give you a refund on an item.
The law in Italy states that there are only two reasons that you can insist on getting a refund for an item that you have already bought:
- If the product was not properly made and cannot be used the way it was advertised. This manufacturing fault must have occurred before you purchased the item for you to receive a refund.
- You can get a refund for a product it breaks or fails through no fault of your own and you were using it properly. For instance, if you bought a fridge from a store and then only a few months later it broke down and stopped working for no reason you would be able to get a refund.
You have to be a bit careful when you’re shopping in Italy so always ask about guarantees before you buy. Most products have a 2 year warranty.
On the other hand, if you buy an item of clothing in the wrong size you can usually return it within 14-30 days to get the right size; although you do need to check this with the retailer before you buy.
Usually though, stores and sellers will try to accommodate your wishes however the law is on their side! This means you need to find out the details of their returns policy in advance and check for faults in the product before you hand over any cash!
Buy Directly From the Craftsman.
Wherever possible you should try to buy directly from the craftsman and from stores that are not set up for the tourists! Shops that focus on selling to tourists have very inflated prices and so you can save a great deal of money by shopping local, finding the craftspeople who sell their own products and seeking out retailers that market themselves to the local Italians.
When you do visit craftspeople and high quality manufacturers you can also ask to see the manufacturing process for yourself! This is not only interesting but it’ll confirm for you that the products are actually made on site and the level of expertise that goes into their manufacture. Usually, the seller will be more than happy to show you the process because they are proud of their skills and traditions.
Artisan workshops and high end manufacturers are often off the beaten track so you might have to ask around to find where they are located. Once you do find these producers you can speak to the staff and often get your item personally modified. When buying a leather jacket, for instance, you can choose extra trimmings, the type of needlework, its color and have it made to the exact size that you need! The same applies to ceramics, glassworks and other souvenirs and by going directly to the craftspeople you will also be supporting the regional economy and the official ‘Made in Italy’ label.
Choosing The Correct Payment Method.
Many small businesses in Italy do not accept credit or debit cards so you may need to carry cash on you to shop with them. In other cases, if you use your dollar credit card account you can end up losing a lot of money on the exchange rates. Generally speaking, you are better off using Euros while shopping in Italy.
The easiest places to get Euros in Italy are the ATM machines. You can take Euros directly out of the ATM machines but you should check with your bank to find out about any charges you might be subject to.
You might be tempted to change your dollars at an exchange rate stall however the charges will be quite high and the exchange rate might be pretty bad, and this includes at the airport, in hotels or in local department stores.
If you’re staying in Italy for a longer period of time you will definitely want to set up a local bank account so you can avoid the excessive exchange rates and fees that you may have to pay if you have a foreign bank account.
Always Claim Back Your VAT Tax – Get A Refund.
When you are shopping in Italy you will be subjected to a standard VAT rate of about 22% but if you spend more than 155 Euros you can claim a refund on your purchases!
You can only request a VAT refund if you are not a European Union citizen. When you submit your request you should expect to get a refund of between 11.5% and 15.5% of the total cost of the purchases.
If you want to reclaim a part of the VAT then you need to have your passport with you and let the cashier in the shop know that you wish to reclaim your VAT. They will then fill out a form, which you must sign and then keep on you along with the receipts for the products. If you buy products of the same brand from another store you won’t have to fill in a new form and will merely have to add them onto the list you already have. You can speed up the process by paying with a credit card although you may also face associated fees. It’s always good to include as many of the purchases on one receipt as you can so you can get a bigger refund. Generally, you will have to wait a few weeks to get your refund.
Always Try To Shop During the ‘Saldi’!
In Italian, ‘saldi’ means sale, so you should always try to shop during the saldi periods! Sales in Italy usually take place twice a year; once during the Spring and another time during the Autumn. Some stores run sales from July to September while others only have a Summer Sale.
The exact dates and times of the sales will vary from region to region as well as by brand and retailer. At the beginning of a sale you will find reductions from about 25-50% on selected items and then towards the end of the sale season you can find huge discounts of between 70-90% of the prices! Don’t forget though, by the end of the sale season there will be less items left since most will have already been bought during the sale, especially if you’re buying a common size or design.
One thing to watch out for though is that some less scrupulous businesses might raise their prices before the sale starts! However, to find out where the best sales are you should always ask your local friends or other Expats who have been in the country for a long time so they can give you the inside scoop.
Double Check Prices Before You Buy.
In Italy, many shops will advertise goods and products with a sign that says ‘A Partire Da’ which translates into English as ‘starting from price’. This means that the price being advertised is the lowest price of a selected assortment of items. This means that the actual price of the item might be higher than the advertised price! Always ask the cashier to clarify the price if you’re thinking of buying something but are unsure of the price.
Opening Times In Italy Can Be Very Unusual!
The opening hours of shops, restaurants and even banks in Italy are very different to what you’re probably used to in America or other parts of the Western world! If you don’t know the opening times of the stores you want to visit then you could end up wasting time and energy getting there only to discover the store is closed!
Most shops in Italy have standard opening times of 9am till 1pm and then shut for a long lunch! After the lunch hour, which often lasts 2 or 3 hours, the store reopens from around 3.30pm until 8pm. Some stores stay open even later in the evening.
Hardly any shops are open on a Sunday, which is still considered to be a day of rest in the largely Catholic country, although restaurants do open with limited hours.
Shop Like A Local – Shop Like A Pro.
Italian culture is very unique and that includes the shops and markets! As an Expat you’ll have to adjust to the opening hours and other quirks that make it different from the rest of the world. It’s always a good idea to ask locals, or Expats who have been there for a long time, where the best places to shop are and when the sales begin.