Italian bargain hunters flock to Switzerland

Joanna Giacomone holds up bags from three of Foxtown’s most popular stores swissinfo.ch

Italians are flocking across the border to do their shopping in canton Ticino, spurred by the strong euro and a rise in the price of consumer goods at home.

This content was published on April 23, 2004 - 09:24

The most sought-after items are Italian-made designer goods, but shoppers are also filling their bags with food and Italian wine.

“It’s like bringing water to the sea,” says Lugano shopkeeper, Lino Gabbani, explaining how he is selling more and more Italian wine to Italian customers.

Gabbani owns a handful of colourful shops in Lugano’s pedestrian zone, selling everything from wine to fresh vegetables, sandwiches and cut flowers (see video).

“Everything is cheaper here than in Italy,” says an Italian woman who has come to Lugano to shop. “Meat is the only thing that’s still more expensive in Switzerland.”

Since the introduction of the euro, the Italian economy has struggled while prices of consumer goods have skyrocketed.

In contrast, Switzerland has become cheaper for Italians because the Swiss franc has lost about six per cent of its value compared to the euro over the past year.

Swiss value added tax (VAT) is also a third lower than in Italy.

Discount

These are reasons enough for many middle-class Italians to follow the lead of their wealthy compatriots, who have been coming to Lugano for decades to put their money in Swiss banks to evade the Italian taxman.

The factory outlet shopping centre Foxtown, located near the Italian border in Mendrisio, counted nearly 2.5 million visitors last year, of whom 60 per cent were Italians.

“People come from Italy to buy Italian brands like Gucci, Prada and Valentino for a good price,” says Joanna Giacomone of Foxtown’s marketing department (see audio).

“The average discount is 30-70 per cent, compared to what you’d pay in Italy,” she told swissinfo.

Buying power

“We highlight the weak Swiss franc in our advertising campaigns in Italy, to let people know they have more buying power if they come to Foxtown,” says Giacomone.

While Foxtown mostly draws Italians from a 100-kilometre radius, Caterina Scuffi, manager of the Levi’s factory outlet store, says her customers come from as far away as Genoa and Rome.

“They don’t come every month,” she says, “but they do come at least once a year because we are very cheap compared to shops in Italy.”

“Everything has become very expensive in Italy,” continues Scuffi, who like many Foxtown employees, is Italian and commutes across the border, drawn by higher Swiss wages.

Window shopping

Even Japanese tour groups visiting Milan only stay long enough to do some window shopping in the Italian fashion capital before being bussed 50 kilometres to Foxtown, where they can find the best bargains on leading Italian brands.

“Switzerland has a reputation for being an expensive country,” says Marco Sorgesa, head of the Lugano tourist office.

“But it’s not that expensive when you compare prices. For example, you pay much more for a hotel room in Venice or Rome than in Lugano or Zurich,” he adds.

“The Swiss national tourist office should do more to promote that fact.”

“Many more Swiss-Germans and Germans visit Lugano than Italians,” Sorgesa continues, “but the Italians are the biggest spenders.

“They go into a restaurant and order three or four courses, choose the best wine and shopping is an Italian passion, so when they come, shopkeepers’ faces light up.”

swissinfo, Dale Bechtel in Lugano

In brief

Italians are crossing the border to shop for designer Italian clothing at 130 factory outlet stores in Foxtown, a shopping centre in Mendrisio.

They also travel to Lugano, known for its luxury watch and jewellery boutiques, and to the Gabbani shops for regional specialities; wine, cheese, meats.

Lugano is also known as a banking centre, and draws many tourists because of its picturesque lakeside setting.

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