July is peak time for end-of-the-season sales (saldi or svendite di fine stagione), with lots of mark-downs (ribassi) on summer items. Be prepared for crowds and long lines at the cashier (la cassa), but the hassle is worth it (vale la pena) if you manage to find good merchandise at a good price (a buon mercato).
Of course, you can find almost anything in vendita (for sale), if not in svendita (on sale), all year round in Italy. A commerciante (merchant) may vendere all’ingrosso (sell wholesale), al minuto (retail), a/in/per contanti (for cash), a resa (on approval) or a rate (in installments). A store is most likely to sell at a good price (vendere a buon prezzo) at a clearance sale (liquidazione), auction (vendita all’asta), cut-price sale (vendita a prezzi ridotti) or a sales promotion (vendita promozionale).
In addition to shops (negozi) and malls (centri commerciali), you can look for bargains (occasioni) at an outdoor market (mercato all’aperto), flea market (mercato delle pulci) or a market that sells used or previously owned things (mercatino dell’usato).
I once tried to engage in a bit of bargaining (contrattazione) for a small silver box with a salesman (venditore) at an Italian flea market who proved to be a better bargainer (affarista) than I will ever be. When I tried to tirare sul prezzo (haggle or negotiate a price), he assured me that he was giving me a sconto (discount) and un prezzo speciale (a special price).
“È un’occasione, lo prendo!” (It’s a bargain. I’ll take it!) I said, sure that I had fatto un affare (made a good bargain). Ten minutes later I saw a similar box at a lower price. At least I didn’t pay un occhio della testa (an eye of the head, the equivalent of English's "arm and a leg") for it!
If you are tempted by the come-ons of i venditori ambulanti (mobile or street vendors), state attenti (be careful). You may come across un venditore di fumo (a cheat or crook) or a master of l’arte di vendere (the art of salesmanship). Some may offer you una borsa in vera “finta pelle’" (an authentic fake leather purse). You could end up with a borsa taroccata (knock-off purse) that falls apart the first time you use it. When this happened to me, all I could say was, "Che fregatura!" (What a rip-off!).
Words and Expressions
La merce, la roba — merchandise
Il mercato nero — the black market
Andare a ruba — literally to go like a raid, to sell like hotcakes
Avere le mani bucate — to have holes in one’s hands, to let money run through your fingers
“Vendesi” — "on sale" sign for a house, car, etc.
Dianne Hales is the author of MONA LISA: A Life Discovered and LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language.