By USAG Stuttgart Public Affairs
Shopping in Germany can be a very positive experience and shoppers will find most of the same things that they’re used to back in the States.
Upon arrival in Stuttgart, shopping is one of the first things many newcomers like to do. However, Stuttgart military community members should be aware of some important differences.
Just like the weights and measurements for groceries are metric, clothing sizes in Germany are different to those in the U.S. It helps to know some of the different clothing size systems. There are applications for smartphones that can help with size conversion as well as online resources, though the size conversions can vary significantly from brand to brand and even within the same brand.
While some clothing now comes with tags that list both U.S. and European sizes, it’s important to be aware of the differences. Most clothing stores offer changing rooms, so the best practice is to always to try clothing on before purchasing it.
One thing most Americans should adjust to in Germany is the way in which Germans shop. Most shops are smaller and in general, most towns have a central, downtown shopping district where most of the specialty stores are located. Larger department stores are gaining popularity in Germany, and at least one or two can be found in most sizeable German cities.
Sprawling shopping malls with dozens of shops, a food court and a movie theater like the kind that dot towns across America are still somewhat rare in Germany, though they can be found in larger cities. There are several large shopping centers throughout the Stuttgart area, including some as close as Sindelfingen and Böblingen.
Most German cities have a Fussgänger (pedestrian zone) offering a shopping experience that more than makes up for the lack of malls. Think of them as large, open-air, cobble-stoned, mile-long shopping malls. Specialty stores, restaurants and other services line these pedestrian streets, offering just about anything the average shopaholic might desire.
Recently, grocery shopping in Germany has become a much more convenient experience. Franchise grocery stores that offer a full range of basic everyday grocery needs can be found in towns (small villages may not have these stores, but they’re usually found in a neighboring village or town).
Grocery stores in Germany are laid out similar to U.S. stores, and though the product names and some of the packaging may be different, the basics are still the same. There is fresh produce, canned goods, frozen foods, frozen pizzas and breakfast cereals. German products are measured using the metric system.
Most German grocery stores do not provide free bags at checkout, with customers typically bringing their own reusable ones. Each store will have inexpensive reusable bags available for purchase, along with recyclable paper bags costing around 10-15 euro cents each.
Cash and carry!
Cash is still much more widely used in Germany than in the U.S. and many stores do not take credit/bank cards; those that do will sometimes require a minimum purchase.
Many larger stores and other shopping venues, including grocery stores, are now accepting credit cards. However, many smaller stores and independent restaurants still don’t. A good rule of thumb if you are buying food, or shopping in a store where most of the purchases would be below €100 is to be prepared to pay with cash. For stores where the average purchase is much higher, ask if they take credit cards.
Many stores and restaurants will accept a German variant of a debit card, called a Girocard or EC (EuroCheque/Electronic Cash) card, even when they do not take credit. They are also frequently accepted at ticket machines and parking meters. EC cards are connected to a customer’s bank account and are secured with a chip and randomly-assigned PIN. They can be used across Europe and are available through a number of German banks as well as Service Credit Union on post. The credit union’s offering, called V-Pay, is available to members for a set-up fee of $25, with renewal every three years at $15.
Return policies are another area in which shopping has changed in recent years in Germany, but they are still a little different than in the U.S. Most large department stores will have return policies, but these policies may be more restrictive than those that Americans are familiar with.