FYI: Rome Shopping Tips

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I…well…hate to shop. :) It’s sad to say, but I’m not the type of person that can window shop. I go shopping when I need something, and it’s quite rare for me to browse the racks. However, when I go to Rome I try to make an exception.

Many guidebooks offer excellent recommendations for shopping. The guidebook that does it the best is Fodor’s Rome which has a very detailed and well written Shopping section (ISBN: 1400015863).

Travelers and shoppers should be warned that shopping in Rome is not cheap. I’ve outlined some tips below to making your shopping experience in Rome one that won’t leave you bankrupt or crying “buyer’s remorse” in the morning:

  • Speaking of buyer’s remorse…you will probably find it difficult to get your money back on something that you’ve bought in Rome (or in Italy, in general). Since returning something is probably going to require a good deal of knowledge of Italian and a golden tongue, I don’t advise it. Unless the item is defective, you’re not likely to get your money back (defects would include a rip, tear, missing stitches, badly soiled or stained, etc). Check all merchandise before you take it out of the store since a defect may not exactly net you a return of your money. At the very best, you’ll probably just end up with a store credit which won’t be of much use unless you plan to return to Rome in the near future or an exchange for something similar in price. Even if the item is defective or damaged, don’t expect anything more than an exchange at best.

  • Seeing as returns are not simple like they are in the US, UK or Australia, I suggest that you make sure whatever you buy fits and that you like what you’re buying before you pay for anything. Italian sizes tend to run smaller than what you might expect. A medium in US/UK sizing might be a large in Italian sizing. Always try on!! Returns are difficult and are near impossible if the item you purchased was on sale. Bring a friend (or spouse) to give you honest advice and feedback on any clothing or wearable item that you might buy.
  • Avoid touristy shopping zones. Anything that you buy will be over-priced. Like I said, if you find something for half the price later on, you might find it hard to return the item later. How will you know what’s a tourist zone? Anything that seems kitschy is guaranteed to be touristy. This is especially true of the shops and stores around the Vatican and the Spanish Steps.
  • Look before you buy! This is important since, as I said, returning things can be a hassle. If you see something you like, make a note of it but shop around! Finding a bargain in Rome might be difficult, but you just might find that sweater, pair of shoes or other item you like cheaper as you wander around the city. Avoid impulse buying when you can. You’ll have more success in finding a bargain if you do.
  • Since at the time of this post, the euro is so much stronger than the dollar and other world currencies (the pound sterling, excluded), items are probably going to be more expensive than what you might be used to in your home town or city. Be vigilant in your purchases and only buy things that you are sure you won’t find back in your home country. Many Italian designers and shops have US operations which sell the same items in your home currency.
  • If you spend more than 155 euro at a single merchant with a single charge (that is, your receipt for the purchase of 1 or more items is greater than 155 euro), then you might be entitled to a VAT refund. The VAT is a value added tax that is tacked onto most goods. Ask the cashier for the special form which they will have to stamp and certify. You can then show this completed form in the airport when you leave and receive a cash refund or a refund onto your credit card.
  • In the United States, the tax is generally added once you reach the register and is not reflected in the marked price. In the rest of the world (Italy, included), the tax is already included in the marked price. So if it says 4o euro, that’s all you have to pay since the tax is already figured into the price.
  • Unlike in the United States, UK, Canada and Australia, shops in Italy close for lunch, and a two hour lunch at that. Expect stores to open between 9am and 10am until 1:00pm. Shops then shut until 3:00pm or 3:30pm and remain open until 7pm or later. In high tourist areas, you might find shops open later, especially during sales, the summer, and holidays. Outside Rome and in less touristy areas, you’ll find that the store hours are less flexible.

    Stores may be closed on Monday mornings and then open up in the afternoon after lunch (after 3pm or so). Shops remain open through the weekends, late starts to the Monday morning are common (most museums and public attractions remain closed the entire day — always check before heading out).

  • If buying food stuffs and other perishable items, make sure that you have a place to store them where they won’t go bad. Also make sure that you will be allowed to import them into your home country upon your return. Customs regulations (click here to view the Know Before You Go publication from the US customs service) regarding food and animal products can be quite stringent, and there may be specific requirements depending upon what you buy. Many tourists hope to buy Italian olive oil on their travels to bring home, but make sure you check to see how much is allowed and any special provisions you must take before bringing them into the country. It would be a shame to spend money on something only to have to surrender it to customs when you return.

    Alcohol and cigarettes are also subject to limitations and restrictions in many countries. Check with customs on the exact amounts that can be brought back.

  • Consider mailing purchases to yourself through the mail. In the United States, you’re allowed a daily limit on items that you send home to yourself. There are specific instructions that you must do. If United States customs rules apply to you (as a resident or visitor), then a visit to the customs web site for more information or their publication, Know Before You Go (opens a pdf file) is a must.
*image: Galleria Alberto Sordi, Piazza Colonna, Rome;
image in the public domain