Some Characteristics of Shopping in the US
There are several types of stores in Gainesville, such as specialty stores, supermarkets, department and convenience stores. Since prices and quality vary, it is helpful to become acquainted with those stores where you can shop most conveniently and economically. Such information is available from people who live here, from newspaper advertisements in the Gainesville Sun and The Independent Florida Alligator, and from the "Yellow Pages" of the city telephone book. The "Yellow Pages" of the Gainesville telephone book can be a shopper's guide. By looking at the category of items you need, you can immediately see the stores which carry these items. You can also call the different stores to ask whether they carry a particular item, and to compare the prices for the same item in other stores. Calling around ahead of time is the most efficient method to locate what you want for the best price without having to travel to each store. If you do call a store, be kind enough to ask all of your questions at the beginning, so the clerk won't have to go back and forth from the phone to the product to give you the information you need. If you are courteous to the clerk, you may get helpful information regarding unannounced sales, etc.
Newspapers often advertise sales that the stores are having. A "sale" is when merchandise is sold for a reduced price.
Most stores operate on a "self-service" basis, where the customer uses one of the baskets or carts provided and selects the merchandise desired. The merchandise is then taken to the cashier, who totals the amount of the purchase and adds the appropriate sales tax. If the shopper needs help in making selections, they normally ask a clerk to help them.
It is important to keep the receipt one receives when paying for a purchase. If an item is unsatisfactory, a person can usually return it if the merchandise is still in brand new condition and if the customer still retains the sales receipt. The receipt proves that the customer made the purchase.
Newcomers should be aware of some important conditions regarding shopping in the United States. The first is to NEVER put merchandise in one's pocket or purse. This action is known as "shoplifting," and is a criminal offense. Most businesses will take all possible legal actions against shoplifters, even if the item stolen is small and inexpensive. Being arrested once for shoplifting can result in a court hearing, a fine, and publicity in the newspapers, not to mention problems with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Another condition is that prices in stores are fixed. One cannot bargain for a lower price. Most products in supermarkets have electronic devices that read a bar code on the package and automatically records the price of the item and its appropriate sales tax. At the time of the printing, Florida's sales tax is 6%.
Paying for Purchases
A shopper can pay for items in several ways.
- Cash or check: The most common methods of purchasing items are by cash or personal check. (Please refer to these specific areas in the "Money Management" section of the handbook). It is not a good idea to carry large amounts of cash with you. Most stores require some form of personal identification if a customer writes a check. Normally customers use a driver's license and a credit card or a University of Florida fee card. Other stores have their own check cashing card which shows that the customer's credit has been approved. Customers must apply for a check-cashing card before writing a check for a purchase. Some stores permit checks only for the amount of purchase, while others will cash checks for over the amount of purchase. When purchasing expensive items, many consumers pay in installments. The customer makes weekly or monthly payments until the item is purchased. You are normally charged an extra "finance charge" for this privilege.
- Lay-Away: Another method of purchasing expensive items is to use a "lay away plan." The lay away plan does not permit the customer to take the item home until it has been completely paid for.
- Credit Cards: Credit cards allow customers to purchase items by "charging" them, take their purchases home, and pay for them later, usually within 30 days. Interest is charged to the customer for this privilege. Some stores issue their own credit cards, such as Sears and JC Penney's. Other credit cards may be used in several places, such as American Express, VISA, and Mastercard. Customers should always read the provisions of the credit card carefully. Purchasing by credit card may seem deceptively easy, but it is a way to put yourself in deep financial trouble if you do not exercise control. Do not purchase on credit unless you have the cash to pay for it. Use credit cards as a convenience when you are not carrying enough cash. Make it a habit to pay off your charges within 30 days of charging your purchases.
All stores have "sales" periodically when regular merchandise is sold at reduced prices. The purpose of the sale is to stimulate consumer buying and a rapid turnover of goods, and to clear store shelves for the next season's merchandise. Sales are advertised in newspapers. Sometimes sale items may not be returned; the consumer should ask what the specific store policy is about return of sale items. Returning Merchandise-- If a customer wishes to return an item to the store of purchase for some reason, he/she should return the item immediately with a sales receipt. The item should be unused. Some items are not returnable, such as bathing suits and underwear.
Most states charge a sales tax on "luxury" items. Florida's sales tax is 6%. Expect to see an entry for tax when you receive a bill for merchandise or for meals in a restaurant.
Many shoppers use discount coupons which can be found in newspapers and other news magazines when purchasing items. These offer discounts on brand name products, and are usually valid to use for a specific size and quantity of a product. Most coupons must be used by a certain expiration date. Some coupons are only valid for use at certain stores while others can be used at any store where the product is sold. In order to receive a discount, the customer gives the cashier the coupons when paying for purchases. Some stores offer "double coupon" discounts on particular days, or if a minimum amount of merchandise is purchased. The Paper Mint is a book full of coupons which is published several times each year in Gainesville. Different businesses in Gainesville advertise their services in the Paper Mint, and include coupons to encourage consumers to patronize their business. The Paper Mint is delivered to Gainesville residents. Residents who have not received their copy can write to PM Publications, Inc. 915 NW 56th Terrace, Gainesville, FL 32604, or call 331-8235, to ask for their copy, or you can stop by and pick one up.
Generic brands (or "Brand X") are usually less expensive than brand name products, so consumers should compare the discount to see whether the brand name is actually cheaper with the coupon or not.
Shopping centers, also called "malls," are stores clustered together, so that consumers can visit several places when only making one stop. There are several major shopping centers in Gainesville, and a number of small shopping centers and plazas.
- Oaks Mall: The largest shopping center is the Oaks Mall, located west on Newberry Road, which houses several large department stores such as Burdines, Belk, Dillards's, J.C. Penney's, Sears; many small shops; restaurants and a food court; and the Oaks 6 movie theatre.
- Oaks Mall Plaza: Next to the Oaks Mall is the Oaks Mall Plaza, which has Toys R Us, the Oaks 4 movie theatre and some other small shops.
- Albertson’s/Walmart Plaza: located on the corner of NW 13th Street and NW 23rd Ave, contains Albertson's Plaza, with Albertson's grocery store and small shops, and Wal-Mart Plaza, with Wal-Mart discount store, Books-A-Million, and other shops, and Sam's, which is a warehouse discount store.
- The Gainesville Mall: located on the corner of NW 6th Avenue and Main Street, contains a Publix supermarket and many small shops.
- Millhopper Shopping Center: located between NW 16th Avenue and NW 43rd Street, contains Publix, Kash n' Karry, and several other specialty stores.
- Thornebrook Village: located behind Millhopper Shopping Center, contains many small shops which are somewhat expensive.
- Butler Plaza, and Winn Dixie Plaza: near the Archer Road - SW 34th Street intersection. Butler Plaza has a Publix grocery, Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, Ross, Albertsons, Litchfield Cinema, and many other stores. Winn-Dixie Plaza has Winn-Dixie grocery and other stores.
- Royal Park Plaza: located on Newberry Road and SW 40th Street, has Royal Park Cinema movie theatre and many other shops.
- West Gate Plaza: located at the corner of SW 34th Street and Newberry Road, has a Publix, and Sunflower Health Food Store, and many smaller shops.
- Newberry Crossing: located at Newberry Road and 76th Boulevard, has a Publix, K Mart, Media World and T.J. Max plus other shops.
There are other smaller shopping centers whose addresses may be found in the phone book. Most restaurants are located in or next to the above shopping areas. None of these shopping centers are located very close to campus; it is recommended that students use transportation, as they must travel a distance and carry bags of groceries.
Convenience stores are small markets which carry limited stocks of various items. These include such chains stores as Little Champ, Sprint and Jiffy Stores. Convenience stores are located nearly everywhere and are therefore convenient; however, the customer normally pays more money for products for this luxury.
Where to Shop for Different Items
Listed below are some popular shopping areas for food, clothing, and household items. Friends can offer advice about their favorite stores. Some are mentioned in the previous section on Shopping Areas.
There are a number of large grocery stores or "supermarkets," in Gainesville. These include Publix, Winn-Dixie, Kash n' Karry, and Food Lion. Many of these chains have stores in different locations. The telephone book lists these different locations. Some supermarkets include specialty food sections which contain ethnic foods. Mother Earth Market, 521 NW 13th Street (378-5224), located closest to campus, and in the Newberry Plaza, carries "health" foods and other items at premium prices. Canned and boxed groceries can often be found at reasonable prices at, Wal-Mart, Target, and K-Mart. These stores carry household items at discount prices, including some non-perishable groceries. Sam's carries groceries and household goods in bulk sizes (a membership is required to shop there). There are a number of ethnic grocery stores as well, listed in the "Yellow Pages" of the phone. Some ethnic restaurants sell packaged ethnic foods. You can ask friends from your country where they have found ethnic food for sale.
Supermarkets sell alcoholic beverages, as do convenience stores and liquor stores. Customers must be at least 21 years of age to purchase alcohol; sales clerks will ask you to show identification to prove that you are 21 years old before they will sell liquor to you. Stores will not sell liquor after 2:00 a.m., or before 1:00 p.m. on Sunday. It is illegal to drink alcohol in public places, including parks. It is also illegal to drink alcohol or even have an open container of an alcoholic beverage in a vehicle. These regulations are known as "open container" laws. The penalties for driving while intoxicated are extremely severe in Florida: offenders pay several hundred dollars in fines, are required to donate weeks of their time to community service projects, must register for a driving course, must relinquish their driver's license for a period of time, and may serve time in jail. People who repeat this offense serve time in jail and pay stiffer penalties than first-time offenders.
Household items such as utensils, cleaning items, tools, furniture, and other household goods may be found at reasonable prices at K-Mart, Target, Sam's, and Wal-Mart. The Salvation Army, located on East University Avenue, sells used household items at very reasonable prices.
Many department stores and small stores sell clothes, and their prices can range from very reasonable to very expensive. Many students choose to buy clothes at Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Sears, Belk J.C. Penney and TJ Max, because the prices are less expensive here than at other stores. Yet other stores may have excellent sales during the year, which make their prices competitive with less expensive stores.