EXPAT LIFE: Shopping in America has always meant for me as an Australian, going to ‘the mall’. Outside these iconic centers of convenient high fashion and merchandise, I knew there were other big-store retailers like Walmart, Costco and Toys’R’Us but didn’t think much beyond these.
Well it turns out that these big-box (large) retailers are so numerous in America that it is difficult not to be gob-smacked when you first go shopping. While shopping malls do traditionally house some of the largest department stores such as Macys, Bloomingdales, and even Sears, there are many chain retailers here who do business well away from shopping malls and centers.
Many of these large retailers, along with car dealers can be found packed along state and national highways. It is no accident of course, that these are usually major arterial roads that carry heavy commuter traffic, even on weekends. In Northern NJ, some of the best known examples are State Route 10, 17, 22, and US46. Driving down one of these retail highways is a cultural experience in itself. So, so many chain stores…
For expats, some retailers are already well-known as they have a global footprint in many countries beyond the USA. However, there are clearly many that don’t and are completely unfamiliar to new arrivals. How do you work out what is what? Here is a list of some of the biggest names to help give you a start.
Expats Shopping in America should know these 14 Large US Retailers
1. COSTCO (FOOD and MERCHANDISE)
Now the number one retailer in the US, Costco is a warehouse club retail chain, where entry is available only to club members. Annual membership fees start at around $50 per annum. Costco will be familiar with many expats due to its widening international presence around the world including UK, Australia, Canada and Mexico, and many other countries.
In case you are not familiar with this retailer, Costco sells almost every category of supermarket products including fruit & vegetables, deli, meat and bakery items but in most cases the products are packaged in large quantities. Dry goods are displayed on pallets, which are arranged on warehouse shelving in rough category aisles. However Costco also sells other very useful goods including electronics, eyeglasses, merchandise, clothes, furniture, and pharmacy lines. Prices are made more competitive by bulk purchasing, a large variety of product offers by their Kirkland home brand and minimal display and bagging costs-all customers provide their own bags or carry-alls. Customers can also purchase low cost fuel at outdoor pump areas, plus travel and insurance services provided inside.
There are various things people like about Costco but their meat selection and fruit and vegetables are considered generally high quality. Costco is an excellent destination to shop as long as you have storage space for the big volume purchases and particularly good if you are having a party or catering for larger numbers of people. Store Locator.
2. STAPLES (OFFICE SUPPLIES)
Staples is an office supply retailer with stores across the USA and in 20 countries across the world. These stores are an absolute necessity for anyone with children, needing school or college supplies, or a small business. Offering stationary, office supplies, small office furniture, computers, printers and associated supplies. Staples also have a Copy & Print Center and a computer repair department (Easy Tech Center). Back to school time is the busiest time of the year. Be prepared for long waiting lines. There is a Rewards Program that offers various discounts for printing, copying and ink cartridge recycling. Store Locator.
3. HOME DEPOT (HOME IMPROVEMENT)
For all your household repair, maintenance building needs, Home Depot is the largest supplier in the US with locations in Canada and Mexico, as well. This retailer also sells a wide range of kitchen home appliances such as refrigerators, ovens, microwaves and dishwashers, as part of their overall kitchen remodeling department, as well as handyman tools. These include everything from snow-blowers to saws to power drills etc. Home Depot also supply hardware, lumber, building materials, paint, plumbing, flooring, garden supplies & plants. Store Locator.
Similar retailers include: Lowes
4. BED BATH and BEYOND (HOUSEHOLD MERCHANDISE)
Bed, Bath and Beyond is chain of retail stores selling goods primarily for bathrooms, bedrooms, kitchens and dining rooms. This includes towels, bed linen and accessories, small furniture and some small appliances. BBB has one of the best range of kitchen appliances available, as well as gadgets, utensils and other kitchen aids. Store Locator.
5. SPORTS AUTHORITY (SPORTS WEAR AND EQUIPMENT)
Sports Authority is an expert retailer that carries all large sports clothing brands as well as a wide range of sports equipment. Sports Authority is a big box chain with locations across the USA, and is a popular destination for enthusiasts from sports including athletics, soccer, lacrosse, football, tennis, swimming, amongst many others. They also stock camping gear, a limited range of fitness equipment and ski gear. Store Locator.
6. Barnes & Noble (BOOKSELLERS)
Barnes & Noble is the largest book store chain in the US. Not only do they stock books but also magazines, educational games, puzzles, and often each book store has a Starbucks coffee shop inside. Barnes and Noble stores are very large with multiple floors. They have their own version of an Amazon Kindle called the ‘Nook’ which is a big seller here. Store Locator.
Similar Retailers: Amazon
7. CVS (RETAIL PHARMACY)
CVS is a large pharmacy retail chain that dispenses prescription products and carries all conceivable over-the-counter products, cosmetics, as well as a range of other ’supermarket lines’. These include some tinned food, pasta sauces, pasta, cookies, cereal, coffee, sugar, juice, toys, confectionary as well as stationery, greeting cards, and wrapping paper. Convenience is the name of the game so when you drop in for a pharmacy item, you pick up a number of items as well, whether milk, something to cook dinner, something your kids need for school etc. Store Locator.
8. WALMART (DISCOUNT DEPARTMENT STORES)
Well who hasn’t heard of Walmart? The most famous discount chain department store and largest retailer in the US for many years, these days Walmart carries everything from white goods to fruit and vegetables. As a generalist discount retailer, Walmart attracts a range of different customers. Some of these are famous in their own right, by being featured on the rather unflattering website People of Walmart. But that, my dear readers, is an entirely different topic for another blog post. Store Locator.
9. MICHAELS (ARTS AND CRAFTS)
If you are a craft aficionado, then you can go wild in Michaels. This national chain caters for a wide range of interests including painting and other arts, flower art, scrapbooking, crafts, children’s crafts plus much more. It is hard to leave these stores without buying something, especially if you have children who enjoy arts and crafts. Michaels is also a good shopping destination for purchasing presents. Store Locator.
Similar Retailers: A.C. Moore (East Coast)
10. BEST BUY (ELECTRONICS AND WHITE GOODS)
Best Buy is the most famous consumer electronics chain store in the USA. In fact, Best Buy is so famous that it has even been parodied on prime time American TV as the Buy More stores in ‘Chuck’, a very successful action-comedy series. This retailer stocks a very wide range of consumer goods that includes TVs, computers, video games, cameras, cell phones, refrigerators, washing machines and dishwashers. Best Buy Store Locator
11. SEARS (MERCHANDISE AND HOME FURNISHINGS)
Sears is a mid-range suburban chain of department stores that is also a household name in the US. Sears sell a huge range of goods: everything from apparel (including premium brands such as ‘Lands End’), jewelry, accessories, through to a very comprehensive range of household appliances and white goods. They are also known for their highly rated appliance service programs. Sears have some specialized stores that focus on one category such as appliances etc. and are found widely distributed throughout towns and suburbs of USA. Store Locator.
12. BURLINGTON STORES (APPAREL AND HOMEWARES)
Known once upon a time only as a coat seller, Burlington is now an off price retailer of various apparel including shoes, jewelry, linen, dresses, luggage, as well as designer brand coats. Because it is an off-price retailer it is able to buy excess designer stock at low prices. Operating across 44 states, Burlington boasts that its prices are up to 60% lower than other retailers. There is an extensive range of coats- everything from long coats to short, business to casual for men, women and children. Stock includes designer brands such as Jessica Simpson, Gucci, Ann Klein, Marc Jacobs, Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, as well as many others. Like many discount stores, there are large amounts of stock, that do not always appear organized and service can be variable, but a good place to find a bargain. Store Locator
13. PETCO (PET CARE) A specialty pet retailer that provides pet products and services that include pet grooming and dog training. Some stores have instore training experts that can provide advice on dog training and behavioral problems. Petco caters for dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, and small animals such as ferrets, guinea pigs, chinchillas, rabbits, mice and rats. Most stores also run pet adoption days in co-ordination with a local pet shelter or similar organization. Store Locator.
14. PARTY CITY (PARTIES, CELEBRATIONS) Like almost everything else in America, if there’s something you need to buy, then there is usually a mega-sized retail store that specializes in it. Celebrations are common in the USA, as there is a long list of recognized days to celebrate this or that. Not only the big dates such as Halloween, Christmas, July 4th but plenty of other celebrations need party paraphernalia. Party City’s customers can come here for birthday party materials, Halloween costumes, St. Valentine’s Day celebrations or Independence Day parties. Store Locator.
So now you can shop till you drop with the rest of the locals. Happy Shopping!