There really isn't 24/7 shopping here except for grocery stores. Shops (other than grocery stores) are generally only open from 9-5 Monday-Saturday. Shops are closed or open for limited hours on Sundays (only 6 hours by law) usually 11-4. But be thankful, countries on the continent do not have any on Sundays!
Clothing and shoe sizes are different, it is recommended you try things on before you buy them. However, a rough guide is two sizes up for clothes and two sizes down for shoes. Here is a clothing conversion chart.
Most stores take cash or credit/debit cards. Smaller shops have a minimum purchase amount for debit/credit cards. Not all places will accept your American cards without the Chip and Pin so be prepared for this.
VAT (value added tax) is the same as sales tax but unlike in the U.S. is included in the price you see. For example, if a shirt says it costs £4.99, it costs £4.99. The current rate of VAT is 20%. Energy saving materials and other items have a reduced VAT on it. Some things do not have VAT at all such as most food and children and baby clothes.[i]
You can buy goods off-base VAT free by getting a quote for the items, taking it to the VAT office on-base, who will exchange your cash for a check to take back to the store to purchase the items. This operates by cash only, and is only worthwhile if you are spending a large amount of money they only do this for purchases £100 or over. Contact the VAT office for more information. This does not include cars, motorcycles, real estate or utilities.
Many shops are moving to charging for use of plastic bags, so it is useful to bring your own. Also cloth ones last longer and have a smaller impact on the environment. It is normal to bag your own goods in the grocery stores off-base, but if you need assistance packing, just ask for it, there is no charge for this service.
A visit to London must include a trip to Harrods, the most famous department store in the world. It is open every day and has everything under the sun for sale. It can be a bit pricey but if you go in January or July when they are having a sale, it’s worth it!
If you buy DVDs over here you will not be able to play them in your player. Some computers allow you to switch back and forth between regions but sometimes it is for a limited amount of time.
The English love to shop and socialize, and there are many different opportunities to join in these pastimes. Most city centers have an extremely good selection of major stores and more individual shops, as well as plenty of places to have a coffee or snack and watch the world go by.
Good places to spend a day shopping are Cambridge, Peterborough, Norwich and of course, London. The best out of town malls are Lakeside and Bluewater.
For smaller individual shops and antiques, try Long Melford, Lavenham and Holt. Antique fairs are held regularly on Newmarket Racecourse and there is a weekly auction at Eriswell Barns of Household Goods.
[i] GOV.UK, “VAT for Consumers,” accessed June 26, 2013, https://www.gov.uk/vat/overview