Shops and Shopping
When it comes to shopping, Australia is a flourishing first world economy with all the choice a consumer could hope for. This section looks at shopping for everything from food and wine to clothes and washing machines and discusses the laws in place to protect the consumer.
What is shopping like in Australia?
Shopping in Australia is done the American way. Yes there are some shopping strips (that’s a high street, if you’re from the UK, or a main street, if you’re from the USA), but most suburban Australians go to large shopping malls. They’re convenient because everything is under one roof and they’re air-conditioned – which can be important in the Australian summer. These malls usually have a mixture of supermarkets, boutiques, other small retailers and big department stores. There’s often a cinema in there somewhere, too.
Major supermarkets in Australia include Coles and Woolworths. You’ll also find IGA stores throughout the country. These are independent grocers. They work together as a co-operative so they can compete against the big supermarkets, but the stores are owned by small business-people, rather than a corporation.
Depending on where you are in Australia, it is possible to shop for groceries 24 hours a day. Certainly you will normally find small delis and corner stores open very late, or all night. In some states however, like Western Australia, there are restrictions on trading hours. If you’re in a rural area you might also find that everything is closed on Sunday, or that the shops shut at midday on a Saturday. It’s best to check with the locals to find out when the shops are open.
Australian supermarkets usually have large fresh fruit and vegetable sections. There is not usually much choice in the way of ready-cut vegetables or pre-prepared meals. Perhaps because Australia is such a multi-cultural place, supermarkets tend to carry a variety of exotic ingredients from all over the world. However there are many delis and specialist supermarkets catering for people from many Asian and European backgrounds where you can buy the labels, brands and foodstuffs you want from your home country but can’t find in the supermarket.
Australians are also trying to cut down the number of plastic shopping bags used each year, so you will often see them carrying distinctive, bright green, recyclable bags.
Beer, Wine and Spirits
Drinking alcohol (which you might hear called “booze” or “grog”) is something of a pastime in Australia. They even have things called “drive-through bottle shops”, which are a little like a McDonalds drive-through, but with beer instead of burgers. Don’t let that fool you though – drink-driving laws in Australia are quite strict and police carry mobile units to test motorists for alcohol. The blood alcohol limit in most states is .05 per cent. The limits are even more strict for probationary drivers.
Australia produces a lot of wine and much of it is of very high quality. It is the fourth largest exporter of wine in the world – shipping some 760 million litres of it overseas each year and adding more than A$5 billion to the home economy. While the most famous Australian wine is South Australia’s Penfolds, there are also hundreds of boutique labels producing top quality drops. It’s possible to buy bottles of wine from as cheap as $5 or $6 (especially if it is a “clean skin” – that is, a bottle without a label) or for hundreds of dollars. You can usually be assured of a good bottle for between $15 and $30. Of course, it’s also possible to get foreign wines, too.
Beer has always been associated with Australia. It’s still really popular and while each State still has a few famous beers, they’re mostly brewed by the same few big breweries. In recent years there has been a big rise in the number of microbreweries – or companies that brew small amounts of high quality beer. If you’re a beer drinker, check out a list of major Australian beer breweries, so you know which beers are local to your new home state.
It is possible to get most kinds of spirits in Australia – from vodka and gin to bourbon and whiskey. The state of Queensland is particularly famous for something called Bundaberg Rum, or “Bundy”, which is made using molasses – a by-product of the local sugar industry.
Buying domestic appliances in Australia, like toasters and kettles, is reasonably cheap from department stores like Target, or Big W. For more expensive items like televisions and washing machines, it’s more usual to go to a specialist store like Harvey Norman or The Good Guys. Check out their online stores to get an idea of prices. You can also get all of the above from major department stores. The two main department stores in Australia are Myer and David Jones. Those two stores are in pretty fierce competition with each other and often have big sales.
You can buy clothes for any budget. Capital cities like Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth have stores for major high-end labels like Prada, Gucci, Burberry and Tiffany. There are also plenty of boutiques for the fashionista.
The two major national department stores in Australia, Myer and David Jones, also sell many high-end labels and more affordable ranges. For the budget conscious, there are department stores like Target, or Big W. Check out the catalogues on their websites for an idea of prices and the ranges available.
Australia and New Zealand work together on food labelling, through an Organisation called Food Standards, or FSANZ. All packaged food must display nutritional information by law – which is great news for allergy sufferers as well as the health conscious. There is also “country of origin” labelling laws in Australia, so you can see where food comes from. FSANZ is also the organisation which decides what food stuffs are safe for consumption and announces any recalls.
We also have energy and water efficiency labelling in Australia. This means if you’re buying an item like a gas oven, you can see both how environmentally friendly it is and how much more gas it uses compared to other models and, therefore, how much more your bills are likely to be. You can check out the Energy Rating and Water Rating websites to get an idea of how it works.
Warrantees and Guarantees
While manufacturers will offer their own warrantees and guarantees on the items they sell, there are also laws to protect the consumer in Australia. Most states have some kind of department of consumer affairs to deal with complaints against what Australian’s would call “dodgy” practices and products. They will initiate recalls of dangerous items or a batch of goods deemed to be faulty and prosecute irresponsible companies and individuals.
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