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Panama - Shopping
Most shops in the country are open from 9 am to 8 pm from Monday to Friday, although there are some supermarkets which are open 24 hours a day in the larger cities. Most shops will take all the major credit cards, traveller’s cheques in US dollars and cash, although it may be cash only in rural areas and in some of the smaller shops.
Panama City has a number of shopping complexes, including the Flamingo Centre and the shopping avenue at Via Espana. In both locations there is a range of shops available from those selling locally made items such as crafts to designer goods. Multiplaza Pacific is considered to be a quite expensive shopping mall but is very popular. The Multicentro mall is famous for the number of boutiques it houses and the Albrook Mall is for low budget outlet-type shops.
Supermarkets are frequently used in urban areas, though those in rural areas are served by smaller stores. One of the main supermarket chains is ‘El Rey’. Most of its stores are open round the clock and you can find all the basics that you need. El Rey has had a reputation for labelling goods with incorrect prices but there are usually points in the supermarket where these can be checked before you buy. Other chains include Machetazos and Super 99. Super 99 supermarkets are often cheaper than El Rey for some basic items, but they do not often open around the clock. Machetazos supermarkets are good for those who want to purchase traditional Panamanian fare. Farmer’s markets are very popular and fish markets can be readily found along the coast so for fresh produce these are a good option.
Panama has strengthened its regulations on consumer rights in recent years. Consumers have the right to purchase goods that are fit for purpose and that will not cause them any harm. They have the right to complain to the seller if the goods do not match the descriptions given or are faulty and they have the right to an answer within a fixed period of time. For advice with any problems, there are several organisations which can be contacted. One of these is the Panamanian Institute of Consumer and User Rights (+507 390 8899) and another is the Unión Nacional de Consumidores y Usuarios de la República de Panamá (UNCUREPA), which is for Spanish-speakers.
The first port of call when making a complaint about an item you have bought is to take it back to the shop. Customers have the right to a refund, replacement or repair. Depending upon the type of item and the length of time it has been owned, it may be necessary to complain to the manufacturer. Copies of all correspondence should be kept as well as proof of posting certificates if you return an item.
Food items which are purchased out of season may be very expensive so many people in Panama keep to ‘in-season’ goods to keep costs down. There are some shops where you can buy all the same or similar items that are available in countries like the US and the UK, some of which will cost a little more than back home, but it is still cheaper than having them brought into the country specially. Other items such as kitchen gadgets and home wares are readily available in the larger cities and most of these are well-known brands.
As some stores, particularly in the duty free zone, trade at low prices, other stores try to compete, so there is no real need for sales, but there are frequent special offers if you shop around so it should be easy to shop for bargains.
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