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Switzerland - Shopping

Food shopping in Switzerland is done at one of the major supermarket chains. Household goods and a variety of other products can also be bought in larger supermarkets. For everything else, residents head to retail parks and city centre shopping streets. In larger locations you can find spacious and modern malls that offer a variety of shops and eating places, and may also include bars and cinemas. Among the largest of these malls are Shoppi Tivoli (Spreitenbach, near Zurich, 120+ stores), Sihlcity (Zurich, 74 stores and a range of other leisure facilities), and Balexert (Vernier, near Geneva, 115 stores plus cinema). Large shopping centres such as these offer a variety of stores including fashion and accessories, shoes, books, electronic media, beauty products, sports, hair salons, opticians, designer goods and jewellers, and frequently also a large supermarket. The main shopping street in Zurich runs along Bahnhofstrasse, starting from the Hauptbahnhof (main station). In Geneva, the main shopping area is found on the Rue de la Confédération, with the Rue du Rhône for designer goods.

Opening hours for shops can vary depending on the location, type of goods and day of the week. As a rough guide, major stores will be open by 9-9.30am and may stay open until 7-8pm, with a possible late-night opening until 9pm on a Thursday. On Saturday stores in major centres close by 6pm and may open earlier than usual to compensate. Smaller or speciality stores in city and town centres may not open until 10am, staying open until around 6.30pm through the week and until 4pm on Saturdays. As a rule, there will be no stores open on a Sunday, although each area will have a pharmacy open for emergencies. Sales (Ausverkauf) are held at certain times throughout the year, typically after Christmas and at the end of summer when seasonal lines are changed. True bargains can be difficult to find in Switzerland.

You will find a Coop or a Migros in virtually ever location. These large supermarket chains sell most goods. The department store Globus has a food hall but this is one of the most expensive food shopping options. Coop is more expensive than Migros, which in turn is more expensive than discount supermarket Denner, also fairly widespread throughout the country. For budget shopping, you can find branches of Aldi and Lidl in Switzerland. Payment is normally made by debit card or cash, but Coop and Migros have their own branded credit cards which work in combination with loyalty schemes. There are no cheques in Switzerland.

There are few goods that you cannot buy in Switzerland, and Swiss-made is a synonym for quality. This issue is rather one of value for money, and for this reason many residents living within easy reach of a border will travel into another country to shop. It is not uncommon for residents to do a bulk shop for food and household goods in France or Germany. You have a personal customs allowance of CHF 300 worth of goods that you can bring into Switzerland before you must pay tax and will need to claim back sales tax.

Expats tend to import more expensive goods where the cost saving makes it worth the import duties, Swiss VAT, shipping, and handling charges. For online book purchases you can receive free delivery to Switzerland from The Book Depository. Amazon will ship some goods to Switzerland but others such as electronics are subject to restrictions. The Kindle can be bought via Amazon.com, often for a better price than those available in local stores. Retailers within Switzerland also often have an online shopping service, including supermarkets. The main difficulty for expats in shopping online is that credit cards are not as easily obtained in Switzerland as in their home countries.

Ricardo.ch is the Swiss equivalent of eBay. You need to set up an account to use the site and currently this includes a postal verification of you identity so can take a couple of days or so. Ads are posted in German or French, according to seller preference. You may be able to pay by bank transfer, via the post office counter for a small extra charge, or in cash if you are collecting items. Take usual precautions when meeting a stranger and be alert for the occasional scam. Ricardo customer services will be able to assist in the event of difficulties or disputes. There is a small German-language eBay division also available in Switzerland with limited choice.

Consumer rights are regulated by the Federal Consumer Affairs Bureau FCAB (G: Eidgenössisches Büro für Konsumentenfragen BFK, F: Bureau fédéral de la consommation BFC). Transactions are subject to a Code of Obligations (G: Obligationenrecht, F: code des obligations) which permits customers the right to withdraw from a contract if taken advantage of or seriously misinformed. Rights extend to door-step and online sales. There is a full FAQ available on the FCAB's website. You have the right to return defective products and should negotiate with the store from which they were bought to acquire a replacement or refund.

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