Melbourne Shopping Guide
I’ve written before about some great shopping spots in Melbourne, but there’s a difference between shopping like a tourist and shopping like someone who has just moved to a new city.
Once you’ve got your souvenirs and gifts out of the way, you might be wondering where to buy shampoo, a new mobile phone, new camping gear, or what kind of store Bunnings is. It takes time to learn, but here’s what I’ve worked out so far.
Many Aussies shop at food markets. Just about every major suburb has one – Box Hill, Camberwell, Footscray, Prahran, Preston, South Melbourne, and of course the Queen Victoria Market. These are not like large American supermarkets where products are neatly organized into aisles. Instead, you get one independently-owned stall after another of fresh fruits and vegetables, breads, butchers and fishmongers, as well as spices and nuts. You may also find household goods, clothing, accessories, and some services.
Some points to remember about markets:
- They are not typically open every day and business hours may vary. For example, Preston Market is open until 3pm Wednesdays and Saturdays, until 6pm on Thursdays, and until 8pm on Fridays.
- You’re dealing with different traders. You’ll pay Joe the butcher for his meats, Dmitri for his spices, and Samita for her vegetables.
- Expect to pay for most of your purchases in cash.
- Unlike at a supermarket, you may not have shopping carts (here called trolleys) available to you. It’s a good idea to bring your own. They are widely available for purchase.
- Prices fluctuate. For example, Preston Market is open Wednesday through Saturday. Wednesday is often the most expensive day to shop. You can find amazing bargains on a Saturday afternoon, but the place gets increasingly chaotic as closing time approaches.
If you prefer supermarket shopping, you have a few options.
In one category, we have Woolworths, Coles, and Safeway. These are like Publix, Kroger, Safeway, Trader Joe’s, Food Lion, etc. They are large, one-level stores offering a wide variety of food and household products all neatly organized into aisles. You’ll find trolleys, traditional check-out lines, and they are typically open all day seven days a week.
In another category is Aldi. Based in Germany, Aldi has stores in America, but I’d never heard of it until I came to Melbourne. Open seven days a week, Aldi is a “no frills” supermarket. It carries staple items such as cereal, bread, milk, butter, eggs, canned foods, toilet paper, toothpaste, etc., which are largely their own brand and displayed on the pallets and cardboard boxes they arrive in. Aldi also has many specials and the sporadic appearance of excellent goods such as barbecues, housewares, and even bicycles at terrific prices. The checkout process is hurried and the counter is small. As soon as your item is passed along the barcode scanner, it needs to go into your bag or trolley. There’s no room for your items to pile up. Additionally, Aldi has a 0.5% surcharge for MasterCard and Visa and charges for shopping bags (so bring your own). It’s not the most pleasant and relaxing shopping experience, but it’s how Aldi keeps its prices low.
Finally, there’s the Milk Bar. “Milk bar” is not a chain, but the generic name of small neighborhood general stores where you can pick up milk, bread, soft drinks, and a few other basic items. Goods tend to be more expensive at a milk bar than at fresh food markets and supermarkets. It’s the kind of place you go to to grab something in a pinch.
When it comes to groceries, I, like many Aussies, shop at various places. I go to Aldi for my staples, the food market for fruits, vegetables, and meats, and to Woolworths for special brands and certain other items. And when I find that I’ve run out of milk just as I’m making coffee, I walk around the corner to the milk bar.
I also want to highlight USA Foods. Certain American brands such as Coca-Cola and Kelloggs are commonplace, but other brands and certain products are harder to find. If you’re missing your Quaker Grits, Betty Crocker Bac-Os Bits, or Zatarains Jamblaya Mix, USA Foods is the place to go. If you’re interested in bulk shopping, Melbourne also has a Costco.
You may be happy to discover that Kmart and Target are alive and well in Melbourne. Two other stores you need to know are Myer and David Jones. These are upscale mid to high range department stores comparable to Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, and so forth.
There are many familiar stores in Melbourne such as GAP, Armani Exchange, Crocs, Diesel, Espirit, Guess, Foot Locker, Payless Shoes, Lacoste, Nine West, and Nike, but they’re not in every shopping center. For instance, there are only two GAP stores in Melbourne. But every shopping center has plenty of fashion stores. Popular stores include Sportsgirl and Witchery. There are also many indie boutiques as Melbourne has amazing local design as well as plenty of vintage shops. It’s just a matter of finding your favorites.
While you can find lingerie at department stores, American women who love Victoria’s Secret will be disappointed that the only store in Melbourne is at the airport. Alternatively, you can shop at Bras N Things and Cotton On Body as well as department stores.
Women looking for plus-sized fashion can shop in Myer as well as Autograph, City Chic, and My Size.
I jokingly say that everything in Australia is twice as much as in America (it’s not a really a joke though). It’s no surprise then that there are no dollar stores in Melbourne. Instead there are $2 shops. There are also a number of great discount stores. Among my favorites are Best & Less, which is great for cheap clothes (don’t expect good quality) and the Reject Shop, which is terrific for items such as gift wrap, plastic storage containers, and other inexpensive things you need for daily living. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to find anything like Ross, T.J. Maxx, or Marshalls, which are American stores that carry brand name and designer goods at discount prices. However, there are a few direct factory outlets, or DFO, where you can find some great deals.
Second Hand Shopping
If you like second-hand shopping, there’s no shortage of independently-owned vintage shops in Melbourne as well as “op shops” such as Salvos (Salvation Army), Vinnies (St. Vincent’s), and Savers, “the recycle superstore”.
Entertainment & Electronics
The closest thing to a bookstore chain in Melbourne may be Readings, which has six stores, and Collins, both are which fine general bookstores. Melbourne bookstores are independently owned and they are often smallish and specific. For example, Paperback specializes in hard-to-find paperback editions; Metropolis has a great selection of books on pop culture, fashion, and art; Collected Works is dedicated to poetry; Syber Books is the go-to shop for science fiction and fantasy; Polyester Books is dedicated to underground books; Books for Cooks specializes in food and wine; and the Bookshop of Melbourne Lodge of The Theosophical Society is the best for metaphysical books. You’ll also find small bookstores and book stands in many shopping centers and even Target and Myer carry a decent selection of books.
There are a few interesting indie record stores as well, but for music and DVDs, JB Hi Fi is a good option. It also carries electronics such as computers, tablets, mobiles, digital cameras, and other electronics. Dick Smith is another fine electronics store. Both JB Hi Fi and Dick Smith carry Apple products, but if you want to visit the Apple store directly, look for My Mac.
I’m going to include Harvey Norman and the Good Guys in this category, but these two stores also sell appliances and Harvey Norman carries furniture, fitness equipment, and flooring as well.
You can find video games and consoles at these electronics stores, but if you want a dedicated shop, visit EB Games (which is part of the familiar GameStop Corporation) found in many shopping centers.
Home & Garden
Kmart, Target, and Myer all carry various home and garden goods. As I mentioned above, Harvey Norman and the Good Guys carry appliances and furniture. Another store to try is Good Housekeeping, for kitchen supplies, dinnerware, bakeware, etc. You may also be happy to know that Melbourne has IKEA. And if you’re looking for home improvement stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s, check out Bunnings Warehouse and Masters.
Arts & Crafts
There are many small, neighborhood fabric and arts and crafts stores, but for largest assortment of fabric, sewing, quilting, scrapbooking, knitting, crochet, jewelry and other crafts under one roof, Lincraft and Spotlight are where you want to go. Riot Art & Craft is a popular chain to know as well.
Like many business in Australia, most pharmacies (also called drug stores and chemists) are independently owned and every neighborhood has one, but there are a few notable chains. These are Chemist Warehouse, My Chemist, and Priceline. Like Eckerd, CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid, these Aussie drug stores carry not only medicine, but an assortment of fragrances, toiletries, cosmetics, and so forth.
Like milk bars, many neighborhoods have the generically called “bottle shop” and supermarkets like Woolworths and Aldi carry liquor as well, but for a large selection, check out First Choice, Thirsty Camel, and Dan Murphy’s.
Fitness, Sports & the Great Outdoors
As usual, you can find some fitness and sporting goods at Kmart and Target. For more specialized gear, you’ll find the familiar Foot Locker and the Athlete’s Foot in many Melbourne shopping centers. Rebel Sport is large retailer of fitness clothing, gym and sporting, equipment, fan gear, and also game and leisure products such as dart boards, billiards, and table tennis. For camping, fishing, and other outdoor adventures, check out Anaconda and Ray’s Outdoors.
This is a list in progress I plan to come back to. Are there any stores you’re looking for, like to shop at, or which we had down under?