Shopping in Portugal: Is There an Alternative to Amazon?

Why, yes, yes, there is!

Skip to the how-to of avoiding Amazon or specific non-Amazon retailers available in Portugal, whether shopping within the country or from the outside for someone here.

Or read the “why” first:

A few years ago, we started putting together a guide to using Amazon in Portugal, because at the time there wasn’t a Portuguese Amazon. 

There isn’t one now either, it’s just that the Spanish Amazon now has a Portuguese version, but anyone who speaks Portuguese is typically able to read and write in Spanish, and also, unless you’re older than a Boomer, the “translate” function in most internet browsers is pretty obvious, and shipping from Spain turned out to be free as long as you spent enough money, so a lack of Amazon Portugal has never been a problem for anyone in Portugal. 

The problem, for us, was well-meaning friends and relatives wanting to send us a gift from the U.S., often through Amazon.com, the U.S. version, that caused us to deal with both the Portuguese, khem, “national” mail system, the CTT — shamelessly 70% privatized in 2013 and (anecdotally, because they’ll deny this) now functioning as a bank that also delivers mail when it’s convenient for them — as well as Portuguese customs, alfândegas, working hand in hand to ensure that Christmas was going to be damn expensive and require several trips, sometimes by bus, to various locales receiving DHL, DPD, MRW, and other acronyms that refused to just leave the stupid package inside your building if they couldn’t reach you (if you live in Lisbon and you have a working doorbell, let us know, your building should be considered ultra-luxe). 

But what we learned, after many undelivered packages and subsequent Amazon.es shopping sprees, was that Amazon.es didn’t always have what we needed, or didn’t have it at the price that we wanted, at which point — Eureka! — we found that Amazon.fr and .it and .de (that’s France, Italy, and Germany for you Yanks) often did, and often at prices that justified paying the slightly higher shipping fee. 

For anyone new to the European Union, if you order from outside the union — say, from China, the U.S., and (thanks, Brexit!) the U.K. — you’re likely to get slapped with tariffs, although apparently not always.

Anyway!

Greta came about and reminded us that maybe shipping stuff we’d inevitably throw away isn’t the best way to ensure a viable future, and also, Amazon had a curious effect on independent bookstores,* and as you’ve hopefully observed on this website, we here care about the written word, and also about people being paid for the written word (donations always welcome, and needed), so we decided that maybe getting a book, or a laptop cover case, or that delicious gluten-free Asian dressing wasn’t so cool if it came in that ubiquitous cardboard box with that awful winky smile that seems to say, “I’m J. Bezos and I just spent the fortunes of the next four generations of your family on this cool cowboy hat, and also, I have a rocket! Do you have a rocket?! Because due to all the crap you’re buying and the various gasses the manufacture and shipping of that crap is contributing to whatever you want to call the phenomenon of strange weather, rising temperatures, and disappearing ice and snow on the planet, there’s not going to be much habitable space on this little rock in a few years, so you better get on board with the cosmic colonization, Chiquita! Want to come on my rocket?”

* This realization came about when one Atlas correspondent sat down with another Atlas correspondent and asked her to name independent Memphis bookstores she liked as a child so we could support them during the coronavirus pandemic while shopping for presents for relatives in that fair city. There had been about a dozen (~12) during her short and miserable adolescence there, and of those, maybe two (~2) remained a year ago — we’re afraid to check what happened since then. 

But it gets worse: there was, in the heyday of the Internet in which little people could do cool stuff, a big number of independent used-book resellers whose names we won’t mention here because almost all of them, one by one, have been bought out by Amazon. If in doubt, give your personal data to Google and do a search.

So if you’re not keen on supporting a middle-aged boy’s dream of living on other planets while you and your grandchildren choke on the fumes of your own and other peoples’ farts, we have some pretty difficult but viable solutions for you.

GENERAL

1) Don’t buy stuff. It’s simple: before you click “Pay,” call someone you care about and ask them if you need this thing. Have a chat. Have a drink. Maybe you can live without this new item. Also, making things is cool again, as is fixing them.

2) If you must buy something, buy it used, you can wash it.

3) Or at least buy it from somewhere more local. Your purchase may still be made halfway across the globe but would at least support someone other than Jeff and his wonder company’s shareholders.

4) But do try to buy something made close to where you or your recipients live, yeah? We’re in Europe, they kill plenty of cows and sheer plenty of sheep and even grow some hemp here for you to get your clothes sourced locally. (And ease up on the petrochemicals, they’re not always necessary, no matter your awesome outdoor pursuit.) Also, wood can be sustainable, and ages better, like rugged men and good wine.

It’s not that we have anything against Amazon, by the way, what with their excellent track record of paying publishers fairly, supporting libraries, and treating their employees with respect and care. And we love space travel, so it’s always hard to choose between Elon and Jefferey as our favorite Marvel hero. We just believe in choice, just like they do!

In Portugal, as long as you’re willing to wait, you can get most things you need, and most that you don’t, in a few days or, at most, a few weeks, directly from manufacturers and a few resellers that don’t ship stuff in boxes with a wink on them.

NOTE: There are no affiliate links paying us commission on this post, by the way, though we have (had?) Amazon affiliate links on some three-year-old posts elsewhere on this site, we think, and they’ll probably kill them on the publication of this one.

PLACES TO SHOP WITHOUT GOOD OLE’ BEZOS

NIFTY GIFT IDEAS: Well-established as well as up-and-coming Portuguese companies make knitwear, soaps, tinned seafood, pottery, books, and, of course, wine, olive oil, cheese, and pastries galore. Many small, independent shops around town carry these items, and some have online stores if you can’t leave the house — some will even deliver abroad. Our favorites are here. Portugal also has a plethora of talented visual artists you could probably afford.

ELECTRONICS: Worten, FNAC, with physical locations across Portugal and online stores, too. The independent sellers around the city also carry everything from phone chargers to washing machines, and if you ask, they may just price-match Amazon. And if you’re looking for a new(er) phone, FNAC has a refurbished option on the big brands, while our go-to has been Techlovers.pt.

SHOES: Calcadoguimaraes.pt and Seaside.pt are websites for stores that have physical locations all over Portugal, and much of their stuff is made in the country. Spartoo.pt is pretty darn good for a broader selection. And here’s the thing: most shoe manufacturers have their own websites and you can buy directly from them. We have, and remain happy.

CLOTHES: Every major brand will have a reasonable shipping fee from their online store to anywhere in the world, even though it may be a few euros more expensive than Amazon, sure. And yes, you can buy a cheaper sweater or skirt at the chain stores you’ll now find on “main street” in Lisbon, Milan, Málaga, Bucharest, and whatnot, and they have their online versions, but you’re gonna throw it away in a year or two because their stuff is merde, and you know it. But right next to these stores or right around the corner, in Lisbon, at least, are many struggling local boutiques, some more expensive than others, and a good number of them work with local manufacturers who also source materials locally. Also, while Lisbon sucks for second-hand clothes, unfortunately, because the idea of second-hand is still alien and we here in Lisbon somehow prefer “upcycled” and “vintage” to “used,” they’re here — and such stores get much, much cheaper once you’re outside Lisbon (5€ Sacoor Brothers dress shirts, for example, is a thing, but you’ll have to get lucky).

BOOKS: For used English-language books you can touch and smell and finger first, you have Bivar right here in Lisbon. Online, the used-book stores that have not been bought out by Amazon as of December 2, 2021, and deliver pretty much all over the world at reasonable rates, including to the U.S. and the U.K., but also to Portugal (sometimes with a tariff, sometimes not, we have yet to understand the reasoning) are WorldOfBooks at wob.com, BetterWorldBooks.com, and ThriftBooks.com. Our favorite U.S. independent, Powells.com, is probably best for North America these days, but it’s worth checking the rates for Portugal.

Related: Where to Find English-Language Books in Lisbon

For new books, the physical locations of FNAC and Bertrand — whose store in Chiado is the oldest bookstore in the world — have a solid selection of English-language books (French, too). And their online stores will have pretty much whatever book you want in whatever language, as long as you don’t need it delivered by drone with a winky smile on it within 24 hours (both chains can take a few weeks for new non-Portuguese-language releases, but they’ll get to you, we have ample experience). We’re still waiting for the coolest new entrant, Bookshop.org, to start delivering to Portugal — but it does already to the U.S., U.K., and Spain.

For you artsy snobs, by the way, both Taschen and Phaidon have EU stores that, considering the price of most of their titles, may very well end up being free to ship too. And to be clear, this isn’t “content research,” this is “I had to find a gift, and did” research.

MUSIC: An Amazon package with some new tunes just doesn’t have the same oomph as a record you found rummaging through one of Lisbon’s many record shops

BOOZE: If you’re shopping for someone in Portugal, Garrafeira Nacional has the best selection and knowledgeable staff at its locations in Lisbon, as well as an online store, with free deliveries for bigger orders. For some more esoteric vermouths and such, Drinks&Co. And then there’s Cavelusa.pt. If you’re shopping for someone in New York, there’s Astor Wines, with a great selection of Portuguese wine and port — and you’ll find that most big U.S. cities, with a quick search, have something like it. 

SPORTS GEAR: For climbing, mountaineering, proper backcountry camping, and canoeing, Yupik has a physical location in Lisbon where the people who work there will be able to get into the nitty-gritty of 10- or 12-point crampons, among other topics, without making you feel like a chode. There’s the more corporate and less personable Decathlon chain of physical stores, with a good online selection as well, and at more affordable prices. Sport Zone is more “lifestyle” but we swear by it for running shoes and short-shorts, and socks. And if you need to get really hardcore, like the latest ultralight wire-gate carabiner (if you need to ask, you don’t need it), Trekkinn might have an awful name but it has an excellent website, great prices, and enviable return and exchange policies. If you can manage the translate function, Sportler.com is very good as well. 

We bring presents.

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