Every time I recount my experiences in Florence, my eyes light up. Not just because I fell in love with the city, but because of the shopping. In fact, prior to actually getting to Florence, all I envisioned Florence to be was this big, shopping arena over-spilling with brands everywhere. It is a feeling of euphoria I can’t quite put to words.
If you haven’t already read my Men’s Guide to Shopping in Barcelona, hop over and give it a read. The preliminary information I wrote there serves as a blanket guide to all shopping in Europe. I’ll only focus on Florence-specific information in this particular post.
Ready? Let’s get started.
Florence plays host to one of the largest outlet malls in Europe, carrying European brands that us Asians are just so well acquainted with : Prada, Gucci, Burberry, Tom Ford, Tods etc just to name a few.
Before heading to The Mall, you might want to familiarise yourself with the many brands it carries. For those who acutely observed that Prada is not on the list, fear not. I too, was fooled by its absence and was only comforted by the sight of an entire two-storey building solely dedicated to Prada and its sister brand Miu Miu. I was less comforted when I saw how many people were queuing to get in. I can safely say that 90% of them were Asians (read : PRCs).
And if simply having these brands in such close proximity isn’t enticing enough, recall that I mentioned it is an outlet mall, which means you’re looking at branded goods at a minimum of 20-30% discount. Just think of the savings. *shudder*
But before we get to the salivating details, let’s settle the preliminaries.
How to get there :
Getting to The Mall couldn’t be easier.
A bus departs from a bus terminal (BUSITALIA/SITA depot) located in the city centre. This bus terminal is right next to the Florence Santa Maria Novella Train Station. It might not be the most obvious of terminals, considering that the ticketing office is actually located inside the terminal, which is holed up in a stonewall building. I suggest looking out for an inconspicuous entrance where buses are entering and leaving. Find that, and you’re golden.
The buses departs as per scheduled, so be sure to check the schedule on the website for the timings are seasonal. Take note of when the last bus departs from the Mall because trust me, that’s the only time you’ll leave. 😉
You will need to purchase a ticket from the ticketing office. The one-way tickets are 5.00€ each, and you may purchase a return ticket at the same time when you’re at the ticketing office. Do that. That way you don’t inconvenience yourself with trying to find cash while juggling 10 paper bags in order to pay the bus driver, while raising the ire of every impatient Asian on the bus.
Opening Hours :
The Mall generally opens from 10am – 7pm. However, do check the website the day before you wish to head over to the Mall. Opening hours may vary depending on the season. When I was there, they had extended shopping hours for summer, so shops would close at 8pm.
Tax Refund at the Mall :
Recall that I mentioned you may only do your tax refund before you leave the EU. Tax Refund for shopping done at the Mall is an exception. It is one of the rare few places that you may receive your tax refund immediately.
Located at the Mall is a Global Blue tax refund office. It is at this office that you may receive your tax refund instantly in cash, regardless of whether you paid by credit or cash. This system saved my life, because it was like a withdrawal of cash from my credit card, without having to pay the requisite administrative fee.
Here’s how it works :
1) You shop, you get the receipt and you inform the cashier that you wish to claim taxes. Your passport will be taken for verification, and a tax refund form will be given for you to be filled up.
2) Once you have amassed a sizable amount of shopping and you’re ready to go home, head over to the tax refund office to get your tax refund in cash.
3) The counter staff will request that you have a credit card in your name. They will explain to you that although you have received your refund there at the office, you still need to get your receipts chopped at the tax refund counter at your departure airport. If you fail to do so, the sum of money you receive will be deducted from your credit, as well as an additional 10-15% penalty of the sum received. This is extremely painful. Don’t be careless.
Shopping at the Mall :
Because there are so many people at the Mall, there are bound to be queues outside the popular brands. Here, we’re talking specifically about Prada/Miu Miu and Gucci. The shopping experience is as vanilla as it can get. You see something you like, you approach a staff, they’ll find a new piece for you and you pay at the counter.
The only odd duck is Prada.
What happens when you shop at Prada :
You will be given a slip of paper with a four digit code on it. This code will be used for you to reserve your items at the counter. You spot something you want, you hand it to a sales staff nearby and he/she will scan the barcode and key in the four-digit code assigned to you.
Goods that are reserved will be held for 2 hours.
Note : The queues for payment may take up to 45 minutes because everyone at the counter will minimally have 3 items. They will go through each item individually to make sure everything is proper. It is ridiculously time-consuming. Plan your time wisely. You have been warned.
My experience :
I had a fantastic time at the Mall. I shopped from 11am-7pm, and I didn’t even bother having lunch. That was how much there was to see, and to mull over : Should I or should I not buy this? Spoiler alert : I bought everything.
Note that it is really not for everyone, for the buys there are definitely on the pricey side. If you are not into brands as well, then obviously give this Mall a miss. You would just find it a colossal waste of time.
Tips for guys, since this is ultimately the Men’s guide to shopping, aim for these few brands : Prada, Toms, Ferragamo, and Tom Ford. Look out for shoes, and small leather accessories. They are usually heavily discounted, and let’s face it. Every man needs swanky shoes and a stylish wallet / cardholder. It’s just good manners.
For shoes, thumbs up if you have a pair of odd-sized feet. Toms has a section specifically dedicated to one-design one-size discounts, and the discount is sick.
Florence Leather Market
Where is it? : Piazza San Lorenzo
How to get there : Locate Basilica di San Lorenzo. The entrance to one wing of the leather market would be a courtyard away.
When does it open? : 9am – 7pm from Tuesday – Saturday
The San Lorenzo Market, also more commonly / popularly known as the Florence Leather Market was another reason why I was so excited for the Florence leg of the trip. But if you are expecting a building filled with stores selling leather goods, then be prepared to be surprised.
The San Lorenzo Market’s concept is very much similar to our pasar malam (night market). Its existence is temporal. Store owners would set up tents and wheel out pushcarts filled with leather goods from 9am – 7pm. After 7pm, the market would cease to exist and the streets would once again be empty.
So what can you expect to find at the leather market? Leather goods, duh. Every conceivable type of bag, clutch, crossbody, tote, wallet, pouch you can think of, you’re probably able to find it in this market. And it’s cheap too. I got some really good buys from the leather market, such as :
This leather crossbody, which I’ve been using to death recently;
and this leather tote, which is the softest leather bag I’ve ever owned.
Can you bargain? Absolutely. And you should bargain because their opening price would shock you. At one instance, I halved the opening price and there wasn’t even much resistance. So arm yourself with your Bangkok bargaining skills, and put it to good use. #asianpride.
Caution : Not every piece of good there is made from genuine leather. Some of them would only reveal at the eleventh hour that the leather is actually synthetic leather. They might also burn the leather so prove that the leather is genuine, when actually a simple chemical treatment would produce the result.
Here are some tell-tale signs I think would help you discern whether the good is made from genuine leather or not :
1) The smell. Real leather smells amazing. I can’t describe it but synthetic leather, or any other material has an odd, artificial smell to it. Like plastic. It’s like sniffing the inside of a tupperware.
2) Real leather never crumples. There was a stall owner who was adamant that the bag was genuine leather, but that crap crumpled like paper.
3) Check the inner lining of the bag. If the bag is not lined with a cloth, the back of genuine leather feels like coarse velvet.
4) Check the edges / corners. Real leather is imperfect. The grains would be uneven, the edges would be rough. On the other hand, synthetic leather would look perfect, seamless and homogenous. If it looks too good to be true, it probably isn’t. Wise words to follow
5) Go with your gut feel. No one can force you to buy something if you don’t want to. Even if the product is made from real leather but you feel uncomfortable getting it, don’t. Just walk away.
And that, is all I have for shopping in Florence. Writing this post took an exceedingly long time because of the details, but all it did was made me reminisce of what a wonderful time I had in Florence. I mean, with all these shopping gems, and a view to boot, it is no wonder Florence is my favourite Italian city.