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United Kingdom (UK) - Shopping

In the United Kingdom there is a wide range of shopping choices, especially for food. Supermarkets are handy, but many locals prefer fresh markets and smaller stores. For expats wishing to buy food from their home country, there are often small local stores operated by other expats where local delicacies can be found.

Primary Supermarkets in the UK

As of November 2013, the four primary market holders are: Tesco, Asda, Morrison’s, and Sainsbury’s.

Standard of Consumer Goods

As with any country, there are sometimes issues with supermarket goods. A study conducted in 2013 showed Sainsbury’s demonstrated the highest range of overall customer satisfaction. This took into account pricing, advertising and customer service.

The UK has a food agency to ensure that all food is safe to eat. It is the UK resident or expat’s job to ensure that they are buying goods that have been examined by the Food Standards Agency. This agency works on a hygiene rating scheme to ensure that supermarkets offer only quality foods that will not lead to illness or food poisoning.

Local stores that import foods from around the world may not be regulated by the FSA. It is important for any expat or resident to feel comfortable with the place they shop when looking for variety. However, most larger chains also carry a range of ethnic foods to ensure that proper safety standards have been met even when shopping for foods that do not originate in the UK.

Supermarkets have a range of opening hours. Quite a few supermarkets in the larger cities will be open 24 hours a day. Many are open from 06:00 to 20:00 or 21:00 hours, ensuring that employees have time to shop at the end of the working day. Alcohol can be sold in stores that have a licence 24 hours a day, except for Sundays, when alcohol can only be sold for a restricted number of hours.

Sales in Supermarkets

Supermarkets often provide coupons and run sales deals on a weekly or monthly basis. Other shops, such as department stores and small retail stores, often base their sales on the time of year. Sales happen at the end of each season in order to move old inventory off the shelves. Those who wish to budget efficiently may therefore want to shop for clothes off-season.


A number of regular payment types are offered, including department store credit, credit cards, debit cards, cash, and cheques. Cheques have been phased out by most given the use of plastic payment cards. Cash is still the most popular payment method in Northern Ireland.

Other Shopping Details

It is possible for an expat to ship food items into the UK under import regulations. There are certain fruits and uncooked foods that may be limited or prohibited depending on the country of origin.

For those who like to shop online, several retailers are available. eBay is a popular auction site for second-hand goods. Shipping between the US and UK is possible through major online stores.

Consumers have the right to return goods within a certain time frame as long as they have kept the original receipt. Consumers also have the right to decent food and supplies, therefore if any issues arise a complaint can be lodged with the Better Business Bureau or a health organisation such as the Food Standards Agency. A complaint can be filed either online or at the store.

The Safe Home Ordering Protection Scheme is also in place to protect consumers when buying goods online. Any time a credit card is used, a consumer can lodge a complaint if the company is unwilling to give a refund for a defective product.

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