New Zealand’s shopping is becoming increasingly globalised – you’ll find all the world-famous brands at internationally comparable prices, including motor vehicles, clothing, electrical and computer equipment – but visitors are attracted by the country’s scenery, not its shopping. The heyday of New Zealand manufacturing is over, as more production is outsourced, especially to China. However, many niche New Zealand brands are earning a name for themselves for quality and innovation, such as merino-wool knitwear manufacturers Icebreaker and outdoor goods manufacturers Macpac (both have outsourced their production to China but retain head offices in New Zealand). In 2007, New Zealand’s strengthening dollar was starting to have the impact of lowering the cost of imported goods, although the Reserve Bank was intent on curbing this trend. Fresh produce tends to be cheaper than in many developed countries – agricultural and horticultural production is supplemented by imports from around the Pacific Basin.

In worldwide cost of living comparisons, such as those made by Mercer Human Resource Consulting and the World Competitiveness Yearbook, New Zealand’s cities consistently rank at the cheaper end of the scale. In the 2007 Mercer rankings (which include the cost of housing), Auckland came in as the 99th most expensive city in the world, with Wellington the cheapest major city in Australasia, at 111.

Shopping malls filled with major-brand chain stores dominate city shopping in New Zealand, at the expense of local shopping strips – and the malls are getting larger by the year. Department store shopping isn’t as popular as in other countries, though each major city has an iconic store. Farmers’ markets in country towns and city outskirts are increasing in popularity as colourful and often cheap ways of buying produce – often organic – and cottage-industry products such as jams and preserves. Each city also has a few markets that can be good places to buy fruit and vegetables, and there are good factory shopping outlets selling major clothing brands cheaply. Parallel importers offer some goods, such as electrical and computer equipment, for slightly cheaper prices, but the competitiveness in the mainstream shopping sector means there’s not all that much difference in prices.

Auckland and Wellington are considered the best shopping destinations in the country. Auckland, by virtue of its larger size, has more shops, but Wellington is considered a more colourful and compact destination, with some strong local clothing brands. While Auckland does have plenty of good independent shops, they tend to be spread out.

The country’s salespeople are usually less pushy – and sometimes less polished – than those in major international cities because New Zealanders don’t respond well to that kind of pressure. It pays to know (and be assertive but not aggressive about) your rights as a consumer, as salespeople may not always be fully informed.

The most anticipated sale time is from Boxing Day to early January but competition in the retail industry means there are bargains to be had year-round. Shop around, as it’s a good bet that at any given time whatever you’re buying will be on sale somewhere.

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