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Shopping in the U.S. is not only a necessity for basic goods, but also a popular leisure activity for many. Large stores that sell merchandise at discounted prices are commonly called “big box” stores. Some of the well-known big box stores in the U.S. are Walmart, Target, Sam’s Club, and Costco. There are many factors to shopping to keep in mind while you are in the U.S.  

Sales tax Heading link

In the U.S., sales tax is added to goods and services when you make purchases. Sales tax is not reflected in the advertised price. So, if you are wondering why the sandwich you buy in a café for $6.99 ends up costing more than 7 dollars, this is why! At 10.25%, Chicago’s sales tax is considered high compared to other cities (this means the sandwich you want for $6.99 will cost $7.71). Sales tax amounts can vary between types of taxable goods such as clothing, groceries, tobacco and alcohol. For more information on sales tax in Chicago, visit the City of Chicago’s Finance department website for a tax list.  

Store savings cards Heading link

Many stores in the U.S. will have ‘loyalty’ or ‘rewards’ programs that they encourage shoppers to join. Some of these programs are free but some carry a membership fee. Usually, membership comes with benefits such as discounts on certain products or services. Be sure to confirm terms of the savings card before you sign up! 

Return policy Heading link

In the U.S., customer satisfaction is a primary goal of retailers. Many stores offer a variety of return policies to accommodate merchandise return in the even that you are not satisfied with an item or if there is a problem with the item purchased. Each store has different return policies, so ensure you check your receipt for details on a specific store’s return policy, especially if you are making a big purchase. 

Coupons Heading link

Who doesn’t want to save money when they go shopping! Coupons (discounts) are popular in U.S. shopping culture. While most coupons used to be primarily in paper format and were delivered with a daily newspaper, there are many free coupon smartphone apps that are gaining popularity (iBotta, RetailMeNot, ShopKick, SnipSnap to name a few). Always read the “fine print” of coupon terms and conditions prior to making your purchase. 

Paying for goods and services Heading link

Most stores or businesses will accept payment in the form of cash, card, or increasingly, digital payment such as Apple Pay or Alipay. Some smaller stores or restaurants are ‘cash only’ or may charge an extra fee to pay for your items with a debit or credit card, especially if the total is below a certain amount. Before you order or receive a service, look for signs near the cash register or on the menu which outline the establishment’s accepted payment methods. 

Online shopping Heading link

With the rise of Amazon and other traditional physical stores and businesses moving toward easy to use online platforms, online shopping is extremely popular in the U.S. You can purchase anything from clothing to home goods to pet supplies to groceries online. When shopping online, be sure to only shop from secure sites and do not give your bank account, debit card or credit card numbers to any unauthorized parties. If you are purchasing items online in Illinois, you may notice your transaction receipt will show an Illinois Sales Tax has been assessed. You may also be responsible for shipping/mailing fees depending on the retailer and their shipping policies.  

Food Heading link

Food “grocery” shopping in the U.S. can become quite overwhelming; the image of the stereotypical American grocery store with its seemingly endless aisles and an overabundance of choice often holds true. Especially in a large city like Chicago, there can be many options—large corporate grocery stores, organic and specialty food stores, discount grocery stores, farmer’s markets and more. Becoming “grocery store literate” will help you find the right supermarket for your location, budget and taste!  

Alcoholic Beverages Heading link

In the U.S., the legal drinking age is regulated by each individual state. In Illinois, the legal age to purchase or consume alcohol is 21.  

Clothing Heading link

In Chicago, you can find internationally-known brands along Michigan Avenue, but be sure to also explore and support independent Chicago fashion designers and makers in small neighborhood boutiques.  

Explore Chicago Neighborhood Boutiques Heading link

Navigate away from Michigan Avenue and name-brand shops to discover local Chicago artisans and makers and the many Chicago neighborhoods waiting to welcome you with unique shops and boutiques

Second Hand & Vintage Heading link

If you’re a student on a budget and looking for unique one-of-a-kind finds, consider browsing at a second-hand (previously owned) thrift store – you never know what you might find!  

Chicago Craft Fairs and Seasonal Markets Heading link

Craft fairs and seasonal markets are popular in the Chicago area and offer a variety of venues where vendors and crafters can share their goods and creations. The Renegade Craft Fair in Chicago is an event where artists and shoppers come together for everything from clothing to paper goods to home décor. One of a Kind Show Chicago showcases artisans in the venue of Chicago’s historic Merchandise Mart. Seasonal art and street fairs and holiday events also offer fun entertainment. Wander the stalls of the Old Town Art Fair (one of the first art fairs in the United States) or check out the Chicago-famous Randolph Street Market and Maxwell Street Market for a local market experience.  

Personal Items / Pharmacy Heading link

Pharmacies in the U.S. carry medicines that do not require a prescription, known as ‘over the counter’ medications, and will have a pharmacist to fill a prescription called in by your doctor. Most pharmacies also carry personal care items and supplies for your home. Some larger pharmacies will also sell a smaller, and typically more expensive, selection of groceries. While a pharmacy can be a convenient place to pick up cold medicine or a snack, it is not a good to do the bulk of your grocery shopping there. 

Home goods Heading link

Looking for some furniture or décor to dress up your living space? There are many furniture stores in Chicago to check out, but there are many other stores that sell a variety of home décor items for whatever budget you are on.