Shopping in Italy: 23 Smart Tips To Shop Like a Local

Gucci store with a golden sign and showcases

Italy is one of the best shopping destinations in the world. There are plenty of items for everyone, no matter your style or budget. But you may end up losing money and time if you don’t know how to do it correctly.

So, I’m here to give you 23 practical tips to shop in Italy like a local. They will help you have a better experience and avoid some traps.

Tip #1: Understand Italian Clothing Sizes

Italian clothing sizes can be very confusing if you are from the USA or UK. Just imagine having to try dozens of clothes to find the one that fits you. However, a sales clerk will help you find your clothing size. Many brands are also putting USA sizes in shirts and pants. Still, it is better to just have an idea of Italy’s sizing charts in advance.

Italy uses centimeters instead of inches to measure clothes. As a result, the dimensions are different from the USA and UK. Remember that 2.54 cm equals 1 inch in the clothing industry.

You shouldn’t face any major problems at all. Most items use International standards such as XS and XXL. Sizes can differ from brand to brand and the model of the product. If it is necessary, you could visit the store’s website. Then, select the product and click on “Guida alle Taglie” or “Trova la mia taglia.” Often you will get a discount code if you subscribe to their newsletter as well.

As for shoes, sports brands such as Nike or Fila will have US and UK sizes. But you may don’t find them in sandals and loafers. 

Light blue shirt with label

Tip #2: Identify The Main Products Of Each City Or Region

Each Italian city has its own typical products and souvenirs. So, you should buy local items only at the place of origin. You will get better prices while supporting the region by doing so. Plus, the product will remind you of the experience you had in that city.

If you are interested in buying clothes, you should visit major cities such as Milan or Rome. Don’t go to the Amalfi Coast to buy the latest fashion trends. Here are some products that could interest you:

  1. Clothing and shoes: If you want to shop for clothes, I recommend visiting Milan, Rome, or Turin. Florence is the perfect place to buy leather goods such as jackets and shoes. You should also consider Bari if you want to visit the south of Italy. 
  2. Souvenirs: You will always find some kind of souvenirs in all cities. But some of the best places to get objects are Aosta Valley (grolla), Amalfi Coast (ceramics and Limoncello), and Murano’s glass.

Tip #3: Learn Some Shopping Italian Phrases

In most tourist places, the sales clerk will speak intelligible English. But learning some basic words for shopping can go a long way. You never know if you will be required to speak in Italian to ask for help. It can be asking the price or getting some guidance. 

Some essential phrases that you should learn:

  • A che ore siete aperti? – What times are you open?
  • A che ora chiude? – What time do you close?
  • Quanto costa? – How much does it cost?
  • Sto solo dando un’occhiata, grazie! – I’m just looking, thank you!
  • Mi scusi, vendete…? – Excuse me, do you sell…?
  • Mi scusi, potrebbe aiutarmi a trovare la mia taglia? – Excuse me, could you help me find my size?
  • Sono una taglia “X” Americana/Inglese – I’m an “X” American/British size
  • Dove sono i camerini? – Where is the fitting room?
  • Pago in contanti – I will pay in cash
  • Posso pagare con carta di credito? – Can I pay by credit card?
  • Posso avere una ricevuta, per favore? – Could I have a receipt, please?
  • Posso avere un rimborso? – Could I have a refund?

Phrases that shop assistants may tell you:

  • Ciao! Come possiamo aiutarla? – Hi! How can I help you?
  • Mi faccia sapere se ha bisogno di aiuto – Let me know if you need any help
  • Mi dispiace, non ne ho in negozio. Vado a controllare in magazzino – I’m sorry, I don’t have any in the shop. I’m going to check in the warehouse
  • Vuole qualcos’altro? – Would you like anything else?
  • Ha la ricevuta? – Have you got the receipt?

Other useful vocabularies:

  • Aperto – Open
  • Chiuso – Closed
  • Saldi – Sales
  • Prezzo – Price
  • Metà prezzo – Half price
  • Che cos’è quello/questo? – What is that/this?
  • Potrebbe incartarmelo? – Could you wrap it up?
  • Di che materiale è fatto? – What material is it made of?

If you want to learn how to visit Italy without speaking Italian, make sure to check out this post. You will find many useful tips to do so.

Tip #4: Create A Must-Buy List In Advance

Make sure to create a list of the things you plan to buy in Italy. You don’t want to spend your money on random stuff. If you don’t have one, you may purchase items that you will never use and forget what you actually need. 

Remember to check your closet, shoe rack, or elsewhere before leaving. Then, create a list of the essential items you want to buy. Hold it in your hand while you are shopping. Here are some things that you should consider:

  • Availability of the product in your home country
  • Product price (Can you get it for a lower price in Italy?)
  • Quality of the product (Can you get it for a better quality in Italy?)
  • Product size (Is the product too large to carry in your suitcase?)
  • Customs laws

Tip #5: Pack As Light As You Can For Italy

If you go to Italy mainly for shopping, bring only the essential stuff. The last thing you want is to don’t have enough room in your luggage. Some people aren’t able to buy all the things they want due to a lack of space or overweight baggage. So, it is best to pack as light as possible for traveling to Italy.

Sometimes it is a good idea to bring an extra piece of luggage. But remember that you will have to pay an additional fee. The most expensive option is to send a package from Italy to your country. It is worth it if you are going to buy large or fragile souvenirs.

Don’t take with you things that you can get in Italy easily. Also, you should avoid packing too many pants and shoes. Here is a short video to help you save some room in your luggage:

Tip #6: Set A Shopping Budget

One of the most frequent tourist’s mistake is to don’t set a defined budget. You just forget about money and start buying everything you see. If it is your first time in Italy, you are very likely to leave your suitcases full. The quality and style of Italian products would tempt anyone.

Remember to stick with your budget, whether it is $100 or $4000. Don’t make any excuse when you reach the limit. This will help you to avoid shopping in an irrational way.

Tip #7: Check If The Product Is Actually Made in Italy

Don’t assume that all brands with Italian names are made in Italy. Some companies produce items in Asia due to cheap labor.  So, make sure to check for the “Made in Italy” certification before buying. The law N.55/2010 states that products must be produced in at least two stages in Italy to consider it as Italian.

I recommend you avoid getting items where you can’t see the place of production. Real Italian products are known for their quality and details. Usually, they are more expensive than the competition. But you can be sure that they will last you for years. 

It is best to buy Italian products directly from the brand or official retailers. Be very selective when you are buying sandals from popular brands in their shops.

Two sandals comparison

Tip #8: Understand How Return Policies Work

You don’t have the right to second thoughts if you are buying at stores or markets. It is in the owner’s discretion to decide whether to give you a refund or not. According to EU rules, the producer is only required to provide you a refund for these reasons:

  1. Construction fault: This occurs when the product doesn’t work properly after the usage. The problem was already present at the time of purchase. It can happen due to production or storage issues of the item. I recommend you check for any fault if you don’t want to deal with refunds. 
  2. A sudden breakdown of the product: You are eligible to get a refund if you haven’t caused the product’s failure. For example, you buy a fully functional fridge, and after a month, it breaks down for no reason. You have two months to ask for it from the date you discovered the problem. All products have a two year guarantee. Also, you can request a refund if the goods don’t work or look as advertised.

If you choose the wrong size or color of an article, you may not be able to return it. You had the chance to see and try the item at the store personally. However, you can return articles coming from new collections within 30 days. As for online purchases, you have exactly 14 days to return the product.

But in most cases, stores will allow you to return an item if you follow some rules. Usually, they will give the chance to replace it with another one for the same price. You will need the original box and receipt. Also, the product must be intact with all the labels and plastics. I once made the mistake of cutting the label tag right away. 

Tip #9: Examine Leather Goods Carefully

You should always check the authenticity of leather goods. It is crucial to do so whether you are shopping in markets or stores. Most leather goods in Italy are high-quality, but it is best to verify it. Here are some tips to help you examine leather:

  1. Smell the product: Authentic leather has a unique and pleasant smell. On the other hand, fake products have a chemical aroma. I recommend you smell a genuine leather good and remember the fragrance. Also, try to compare both to have a clearer idea before leaving.
  2. Test the leather: Try to pull the leather to test out its hardness gently. It must be soft, elastic, and smooth. But if it is too hard and rigid, it is probably an imitation.
  3. Check for any micro-defect: Often, you will see small scratches and wrinkles on real leather goods. These imperfections are a good sign since each animal has a unique story. If the product is too perfect and symmetric, it may not be genuine.
  4. High Cost: Don’t expect to buy authentic leather goods for a very low price. They are very expensive and difficult to produce. You are very unlikely to find cheap leather products, even in the markets of Florence. 

If you are buying leather goods in stores, make sure to look for the “Vera Pelle” certification. It is the easiest way to spot an authentic leather good. There are also other certifications, such as “Vero Cuoio,” “Pelle/Pieno Fiore,” and “Fatto Con Prodotti Animali.” Don’t buy the item if you see the writing 100% Poliuretano. You can find the label rules on the Italian Fashion Federation website.

Tip #10: Check For Other Affordable Brands

You don’t need a lot of money to go shopping in Italy. In fact, you will find many other brands at an affordable price. Most of them have a similar style to other big companies, and the materials are quite good.

I recommend you visit OVS, GEOX, Kappa, and Superga stores. If you have a child, you should go to Primigi or Chicco shops. You will find other International brands such as Roda, H&M, and Zara. But their prices are a little higher.

Tip #11: Prefer To Buy Directly From The Craftsman

Choose to buy directly from manufacturers and not shops made for tourists. You will get a high-quality product at the best price on the market. In some cases, the maker will give a price reduction if you ask for it. Also, you will be able to see the production process in front of your eyes.

I recommend you wait to get a local item until you find an artisan workshop. They are usually located in hidden places far away from the public view. Artisans are happy to see people being interested in their job and products.  

Also, you will be able to personalize the product as you wish. Whether you are buying a leather good or a ceramic item, you can choose the style, size, colors, and more. It will add more uniqueness to your product and a good memory. Plus, you will be supporting the local economy and the Made in Italy production. 

An Italian Cordwainer making shoes in his workshop
Photo by Jorge Royan | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 3.0

Tip #12: Consider Shopping At Grocery Stores

Many large grocery stores, such as Auchan and Ipercoop, sell clothing items. They have both Italian and international fashion brands. Usually, the prices are very competitive, and they have a great variety of clothing items. I have bought good quality pants, t-shirts, and Italian loafers from supermarkets.

Also, some grocery stores have their own clothing trademark. The prices are very low, so don’t expect the best quality. For example, I like to buy shorts, socks, and some pants in Auchan supermarkets. Remember to check the materials of the product before buying it.

Tip #13: Choose The Right Payment Method

It is essential to choose the right way to pay for things in Italy. You may lose a lot of money only for the exchange rates. Some small businesses don’t accept credit or debit cards. So, make sure to have some cash in euros to avoid inconveniences.

The best way to get euros is by using ATM machines. You won’t get a great deal if you use exchange booths to obtain local currency. Traveler’s cheques are not the cheapest method either way.

Make sure to get charged in euros when you are using debit or credit cards. Never let stores convert your money. They can charge you what they want, and you won’t have control over the conversion rates.

If you want to know how to exchange currency in Italy, check out this helpful post. You will find what you should do to get the best conversion rates.

Tip #14: Claim Your VAT Tax Refund (Be Patient)

If you are going to shop in Italy regularly, make sure to claim your tax refund. You will save a lot of money, especially if you are going to buy luxury items. The standard VAT rate is 22%, and you must spend at least €154.95 for a refund. But expect to get a refund rate from 11.6% to 15.5% of the total purchases. You can only request it if you are not an EU citizen.

You must have your passport or a copy when you go to make your purchase. And ask the cashier that you are applying for a tax refund. Then, they will fill out a form for you with all your information. Finally, the cashier will give you the receipt of your purchase and some separate forms. You will need to sign the vat-tax documents and carry them all the time. You won’t have to do the same procedure again in stores of that brand.

All taxes are already included in the total cost of products. You will only have to pay what you see in the price tag. Also, most luxury items are cheaper than in other countries like the USA or Canada. But you may have to pay taxes at your local custom if you exceed a certain amount.

Some cashiers suggest making your purchase with a credit card to speed up the process. Also, it is best to put as many items as possible in one receipt. Often you will get a higher refund if you do so.

Remember to don’t consume any product and take some pictures of your refund forms. Usually, you will need to wait about two weeks to get your money back.

Tip #15: Shop During The “Saldi” Period

Most Italians wait for the “Saldi” or sales periods to buy clothing items. They take place two times a year; in the Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter seasons. Normally, they start from January to February for Winter collections, and from July to September for Summer ones. But the dates depend on the region, and they change every year. 

At the beginning of the sales season, you will find discounts from 30% to 50%. But at the end of it, you will be able to save up to 70% in some items. I recommend you don’t wait until the last minute to buy your favorite articles. Most of the time, they will be out of stock or discontinued. Just buy the essential items at first and keep some money for the latest bargains.

New collections and most luxury items usually don’t go on sale. You will need to go to a department store or a designer outlet. You are very unlikely to find discounted prices at Gucci or Versace shops. 

Some business owners raise their prices before sales start. So, make sure to check the cost of the items you plan to buy some days ahead. If you see a discount of over 70%, the article may be from last year’s collections (it is an illegal practice). Remember to see the prices of other stores as well.

Shopping in Italy showcase of a clothing store with a big "Sales" sign in Italian

Tip #16: Timing Is More Important Than You Think

You could waste a lot of time and energy if you don’t know when to shop in Italy. Usually, shops are open from 09:00 AM to 01:00 PM and from 15:30 PM to 20:00 PM. Most stores don’t open on Sundays, but you will always find some available.

If you don’t like crowded places, I recommend you avoid shopping on weekends. Most stores and shopping malls are very congested in those days. Also, remember to have some water while shopping during the summer. 

Probably, the best days to go shopping in Italy are Wednesday and Thursday. Stores are usually less crowded during the morning as well. It is a good idea to use geographic tools such as Google Maps to see how many people there are.

Tip #17: Be Aware Of Street Sellers

You should avoid getting stuff from street sellers and illegal retailers. They lay down a blanket on the sidewalk to sell cheap goods such as bags and sneakers. Usually, they are safe people, and you are unlikely to get scammed or robbed by them. It is under your discretion to buy their products or not. But remember that you could get a fine if the police caught you buying from illegals. 

There are many street sellers in the city centers and shopping areas. If a seller approaches you, just ignore him and keep walking. Most of the time, they will try to grab your attention by giving you compliments. There is no need to be rude, but let them know that you are not interested. 

Tip #18: Be Aware Of Pickpockets In The Market

There is a high risk of getting pickpocketed in Italian markets. Thieves take advantage of distracted tourists in crowded places. You should be aware of your stuff all the time, especially if you are using a backpack.

In most cases, tourists are an easier target for pickpockets than locals. This is because foreigners don’t know the zones and where they operate. It is very hard to spot thieves, but they can be kids between 10 and 16 years, women, and middle-aged people.

Be aware when you see small groups of people. They will try to distract you while someone else takes away your wallet. I recommend you don’t wear backpacks or at least use it in front of you. Also, you should split up your money in different places or just use a money belt.

If you get pickpocketed, there aren’t so many things that you can do. You can only report the crime to the police and nothing more. So, make sure to take photos of your documents and cards in advance. Plus, send all the pictures to someone or upload them in a cloud service. It will help you replace your documents more quickly.

Tip #19: Use The Right Clothes For Shopping

Don’t use extravagant or uncomfortable clothes for shopping. You should wear something easy to take off. Also, make sure to use neutral colors to sweat less and better match the clothes you try in the store.

Most Italians prefer to wear minimalist and casual outfits in the streets. So, it is a good idea to dress well and simply. You don’t want to look like a rich tourist or a careless person. Just find the balance and act normal. The main reason why tourists get stolen is due to their behaviors and not clothes.   

As for shoes, it is best to wear athletic or slip-on sneakers. They are very comfortable for long walks, and you can enter any place with them. I usually go shopping with a pair of Adidas Superstar. If you are a woman, you could also use sandals.

Tip #20: Spot The “A Partire Da” Trap

In most stores, you will find a sign that says “A Partire Da,” which means “Starting from.” Essentially, it shows the lowest price of a specific assortment of clothes. But you will only find a few items at that particular price. And the majority are much more expensive than advertised.

Stores do this to attract more people and potential clients. I have fallen into this trap many times in different shops. At first, you are so excited to take advantage of the offer. You try to get as many items as possible from that group. But when you check the receipt, you realize that the articles didn’t cost you €7.99, but €19.99 or more.

So, make sure to check the price of each article individually. Even if they seem about the same, I recommend you always do so with any item. The rates may differ for very subtle differences in style and materials.

Tip #21: Be Careful When You Stand In Line To Pay

You will often see small stands near the cash desk when you wait in line to pay. They display cheap products such as caps, bracelets, earrings, etc. Many shops do this to tempt people to buy unnecessary stuff. You don’t know what to do while you are standing in the queue. And you start buying everything you find because you feel impatient.

It is a well-studied technique to encourage excessive consumption. Don’t fall in the trap of irrational shopping. Just buy the products you were looking for or need. If there is something that you want from the stand, get it. But don’t let feelings like impatience control you.

Tip #22: Don’t Forget To Visit The Outlets

There are many outlets in all regions of Italy. You will find discounted prices for designer brands, cosmetics, furniture, and more. Most of the time, discounts for luxury items start from 30% to 70%.

Most outlets are open during the whole year. You will find them far away from the city, usually at the entrance. Here are some Italian outlets that you should visit:

  1. Serravalle Outlet, Milan
  2. Franciacorta Outlet Village, Brescia
  3. Fashion District Valmontone, Rome
  4. Barberino Designer Outlet, Florence
  5. Fashion District Molfetta Outlet, Bari
  6. Noventa di Piave Designer Outlet, Venice
  7. La Reggia Outlet, Naples

You will be able to reach most outlets by taking the train. However, you may have to rent a car in some situations. So, I encourage you to read this post if you want to know which one you should use.

Tip #23: Prioritize Experiences Instead Of Items

You don’t need to get a bunch of items to remember your trip in Italy. Often it is better to spend on experiences than buying random stuff. No product will give you the satisfaction of a moment family moment.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying to don’t buy anything in Italy. It is always good to get a souvenir that reminds you of your trip or clothing items. But you don’t need to buy everything you find in your way.

Sometimes a small cup or just a postcard is enough. You don’t need to spend your whole vacation looking for things to buy. Someday you will remember the experiences you had and not what you purchased.

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