Shopping Tips

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Shopping Tips

Many tourists look for bargains in the US

Many tourists visiting the USA on vacation enjoy shopping for bargains. American whiskey, fashion jeans, children’s clothing, plush bath towels and fine bed linens are all popular items for shoppers from other countries. You can find many bargains in the US if you know where to shop and how to take advantage of the competitive sales.

The big shopping malls are in the suburbs

There are still some department stores and downtown shopping areas in most US cities, but the big shopping malls and discount stores are usually located out in the suburban communities. Some of the major outlet centers are located in the countryside miles from the nearest major city. It is best to have an automobile if you want to do any serious bargain shopping.

Department stores offer good quality and high fashion


Department stores are large establishments that offer a wide selection of merchandise including fashion clothing, house wares, appliances, luggage and jewelry. They normally offer good quality merchandise, well known brands and the latest fashions, but not low quality products at bargain prices. They frequently have seasonal sales with attractive discounts. At such times, you can get high quality or fashion merchandise at bargain prices. In July and August, they have end-of-summer sales. In November, the Thanksgiving Day sale of pre-Christmas merchandise is one of the biggest shopping days of the year. From December 26 through mid-January, they hold big after-Christmas sales. In February, all the winter merchandise goes on sale. In addition, they have many special promotions and clearance sales.

The big department stores are typically parts of national chains, so you can find the same stores in many cities. They normally have a downtown store in a major city with several branch stores in the surrounding suburban shopping malls. Here are the names of some well-known national department stores. Lord & Taylor, Hecht’s, Strawbridge’s, Kaufman’s, Filene’s, Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Burdine’s, Lazarus, Rich’s, Nordstrom’s, Sak’s, Dayton-Hudson’s, Marshall’s and Bergdorf-Goodman.

General merchandise stores offer affordable quality

Sears and JCPenny’s are two large national chains with stores across the USA. They are similar to department stores but they do not offer high fashion merchandise or prestige brands. Instead, they feature good quality merchandises at affordable prices. They are particularly known for their selection of children’s clothing, home appliances, housewares and domestic goods. Sears is famous for its selection of tools and lawn and garden products.

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Discount stores sell at low prices

Discount stores sell some good quality merchandise at affordable prices and some lower quality merchandise at very low prices. If you are not looking for the latest fashions, or the famous brands, or the best quality, you can find some very inexpensive merchandise at a discount store. Some national discount chains with stores across the US are K-Mart, Wal-Mart, Target and Caldor.

Rittenhouse Row, Philadelphia© Philadelphia Convention & Vistors Bureau
Rittenhouse Row, Philadelphia

Outlet Malls are a bargain hunter’s wonderland

Outlet stores or factory outlets sell high quality merchandise with a well-known brand at discounted prices. They usually offer merchandise with slight manufacturing flaws and remainders from the last season or the previous year. They do not have end-of-season sales like the department stores, as their merchandise is always discounted 20% to 40% below department store prices. If you take advantage of the end-of-season sales at a department store, you can frequently get better bargains. At all other times, the outlet store is the best buy. Outlet malls with many hundreds of top brand name outlet stores like Levi’s, Ralph Lauren, Timberland, and Pioneer can be found in most states, and they are often a bargain hunter’s wonderland.

State and local sales taxes can be confusing

The US government does not levy a value-added tax on merchandise as governments do in many other countries, but most states and some cities collect a sales tax on all purchases. State taxes usually average 4% to 8%. Some cities add an additional 2%. Remember when you purchase something for $1.00, you may have to pay $1.08. Some states exempt all clothing and food purchases from sales tax. If you buy something big like a car or motorcycle, be sure to specify that it will be exported and you can usually obtain an exemption from the sales tax.

Words of caution about sizes and electronics

Clothing sizes in the USA are based on measurements in inches. We include some charts with conversions to some of the European and metric standards.

If you purchase any electric appliances or electronics in the US, remember that all electrical items are normally 110v and 60Hz. Be sure that the item is adaptable to your local electric supply. US televisions, video recorders and cell phones use different standards than most other countries and are incompatible.