Expat Life

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. Here’s your Melbourne shopping guide.

Groceries

Many Aussies shop at food markets. Just about every major suburb has one – Box Hill, Camberwell, Footscray, Prahran, Preston, South Melbourne, and the CBD. These are not like American chain supermarkets. They’re more like farmer’s markets, but indoors, with independently-owned stalls 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. Most big markets have a website so check the hours ahead.
  • 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. Many traders don’t accept cards. Others may have minimums.
  • Unlike a supermarket, there may not be any shopping carts, or trolleys. 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 bargains on a Saturday afternoon, but it’s also the busiest day to shop.

If you prefer supermarket shopping, you have a few options.

In one category, we have Woolworths, Coles, IGA, and Safeway (which has been bought by Woolworths). 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 organised into aisles. You’ll find trolleys, traditional check-out lines, and they are open all day seven days a week.

In another category is Aldi, a global discount supermarket chain. Open seven days a week, Aldi is a “no frills” supermarket that specialises in its own brand of staple items such as cereal, bread, milk, butter, eggs, cleaning supplies, toilet paper and other inexpensive household items. In addition to its standard assortment, Aldi has weekly special offers that range from crockery to clothing, tools, and electronics.

Aldi is cheaper than the other supermarket chains for a number of reasons including that it displays products on pallets, which cuts down on staff required to stock, and doesn’t provide bags. The check-out line is short and fast. It’s not always the most pleasant place to shop, but the price difference really is noticeable.

Finally, there’s the milk bar. “Milk bar” is not a chain, but the generic name of small neighbourhood 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 Kellogg’s are commonplace, but other brands and certain products are harder to find. You can find Aussie equivalents, but if you’re dead set on 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.

Department stores

You may be happy to discover that Kmart and Target are alive and well in Melbourne. They’re unrelated to their US-counterparts, but you’d never know that going in. 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.

Fashion

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. You won’t find them all in one place, but every shopping centre has plenty of fashion stores. Popular stores include Sportsgirl, Sussan, Country Road, and Witchery. There’s also an H&M in the CBD. There are also many indie boutiques, thrift stores (called op shops), and vintage shops.

American women who love Victoria’s Secret will be disappointed to discover there are only about five stores in the whole city. Alternatively, you can shop for intimates at Bras N Things, Cotton On Body, and Peter Alexander.

Women looking for plus-sized fashion can shop in Myer as well as Autograph, City Chic, My Size, and TS 14. Target and Kmart also carry a small range of plus-sized fashion.

Discount stores

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 discount stores like Best & Less, which sells very cheap, but very poorly made fast fashion, and the Reject Shop, which carries gift wrap, plastic storage containers, laundry pegs, and other inexpensive things you need for daily living. If you’re looking for a factory outlet, look for the DFOs.

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

There are a few bookstore chains in Melbourne. Dymocks operates about 10 stores. Readings has about six stores. Collins operates three stores and Avenue operates two. These are privately owned bookstore chains. They may have one large flagship store and then the rest are smaller. Readings Carlton is the darling of Melbourne’s literary scene.

There are also many small, independently owned specialist bookstores. For example, Paperback specialises in hard-to-find paperback editions. Metropolis, one of my favourites, 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 specialises in food and wine. The Bookshop of Melbourne Lodge of The Theosophical Society is the best for metaphysical 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. It also carries Apple products.

Speaking of Apple, there are two Apple stores in Melbourne and one My Mac reseller in the CBD. You can also buy Apple and Android mobile devices from telecommunications stores such as Telstra, Optus, Virgin, and Vodafone, which can be found in most shopping centres.

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 as well as Target and Myer, but if you want a dedicated shop, visit EB Games (which is part of the familiar GameStop Corporation) found in many shopping centres.

Home & garden

Kmart, Target, and Myer all carry various home 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., and Manchester for linens. You may also be happy to know that Melbourne has IKEA.

If you’re looking for home improvement stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s, check out Bunnings Warehouse, which also has a garden section. For office supplies, look for Officeworks.

Arts & crafts

There are many small, neighbourhood fabric and arts and crafts stores, but for largest assortment of fabric, sewing, quilting, scrapbooking, knitting, crochet, jewellery 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.

Pharmacy

Like many business in Australia, most pharmacies (also called drug stores and chemists) are independently owned and every neighbourhood 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. Note that Priceline carries cosmetics and personal care products, but not medicine.

Liquor

Like milk bars, many neighbourhoods have the generically called “bottle shop” and supermarkets like Woolworths and Aldi carry liquor as well, but for a large selection, check out Dan Murphy’s, BWS, First Choice, and Thirsty Camel.

Fitness, sports & the great outdoors

As usual, you can find some fitness and sporting goods at Kmart and Target. For more specialised gear, you’ll find the familiar Foot Locker and the Athlete’s Foot in many Melbourne shopping centres. 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 Kathmandu, 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?

Comments

comments

  • Thanks so much for this Cosette! You have done most of the researching for me for when we move to Melbourne. I’ll be bookmarking this blog for when we settle in.
    Tasmania is starting to grow on me, especially now that I am working but is still very limited in what there is available, mostly because we are on an island. IKEA won’t even send a catalog this way but I picked one up the last tie I was in Melbourne for a visit. I am looking for to USA Foods and Costco if even just to look.

    • I’m so glad, Terry! Tasmania is very lovely. I was lucky to spend a few days there earlier this year, but I can see it might be pretty tough to find some products. When are you coming to Melbourne?

  • We are hoping to move there this year. We visit every few months but we want to move to the mainland for so many reasons. Tassie is a great place to raise kids but I worry about their future here as adults. No much of an economy and the oldest is 15 now.

  • Cosette – Fyi, no alcoholic beverages sold in grocery stores in Queensland, but most have a Bottle Shop next door. 😉

    • Oops, tried to modify my reply but couldn’t sort it – I do realize your Blog is entitled ‘Melbourne Shopping’, but thought you might like to know… 😉

  • Woolworths and Safeway are the same store. They used to be different, but Woolworths bought Safeway years ago. And people still refer to the rebranded Woolworths stores as Safeway sometimes. You also left IGA out of the grocery category. 😉

    For bookstores, there is Dymock’s, which is a chain, but it’s no Barnes & Noble. The stores are usually pretty small from what I’ve seen. If I need a book that I don’t want or can’t get on Kindle, I usually order from the Book Depository. They’re based in the UK, but they have free worldwide shipping and their prices are way lower than any bookstore. Books are just way too expensive here. I don’t know how people can justify paying $20 for a paperback novel.

    In the Kmart/ Target category, you left out Big W. I swear they totally ripped off Walmart, minus the grocery section. It’s not affiliated with Walmart, but you sure wouldn’t know it by looking around in there. Exact same colour scheme and layout.

    Also, I believe Masters is partly owned by Lowe’s and I’ve heard people say it is way better than Bunnings. I happen to love Lowe’s and I’ve never been impressed with Bunnings, so I’m dying to go to a Masters (how lame is that, right?), but there are not as many of them around. I think the nearest one to me is Preston and that’s like 40 minutes away.

    • I’ve never seen IGA. I’ll have to look for those and check it out. I agree that books are expensive. I mostly stick to Kindle e-books as well. I haven’t been to Dymock’s or Big W. I don’t think I have them in my neighborhood. I’ll have to look around for these as well. I think Masters is nicer than Bunnings, maybe because it’s newer and shiny, but in general they are pretty similar with comparable prices.