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I recently had the most amazing shopping trip in Brisbane. Yes, Brisbane. Not Sydney, or Melbourne. Brisbane.

It comes as a shock to me. I grew up in Redcliffe, a suburb to the  north-west of Brisbane  with a reputation for young teen  pregnancies and the fact the Bee Gees were residents for a brief period in the 60’s (if you are there, check out the  Bee Gees walkway, quite the monument). I spent most of my formative years hatching plans to get out of Brisbane.

Back in the day retail was under-developed at best. The local constituents fought hard against late night shopping and Sunday trading although due to it being a tourist destination, Redcliffe boasted full Saturday trading  before other locations which closed at noon. I recall the highlights being a trip into town to visit a Sportsgirl or Miss Shop in Myer. Country Road was the pinnacle of affordable fashion.

Experiential retailers were thin on the ground. Highlights were the Darrell-lea in Queen Street or morning tea at the Shingle Inn. Long before the web provided us with fingertip shopping, it was a trip to Sydney or Melbourne that everyone yearned for to get real retail therapy underway. So to say I was delighted with my recent trip to the Sunshine State is an understatement. I was proud. The Myer and David Jones experiences were the best I’ve had in the last 2 years. Better than Sydney and definitely better than Melbourne.

Sporting excellent fittings, fixtures and merchandising, these department stores were well curated with a fabulous selection of local and international designers. The kid’s clothing selection was outstanding and the beauty halls a wonderful, interactive experience.  Even homewares had a good selection of concessions including Kate Spade in DJ’s. Target, although spread over two levels which I am not a fan of, was well presented with a good selection in many categories, a pleasant surprise given the retail media fuss of late.

Whereas the Myer Centre used to be the place to go, the journey down towards The Wintergarden and Queen’s Plaza is vastly improved. Going down the mall on the right hand side is a fast fashion fix with Seed, French Connection, Dinosaur Designs, Coach, Ben Sherman and Georg Jensen. But the jewel in the crown is Queen’s Plaza, a veritable who’s who of retailers  from Aesop and Allanah Hill (oopsie, dropped a cash bomb there), to higher end names Bally, Chanel, Max & co, Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Co to the edgier fashion of Gorman and G-Star Raw, to the reliable favourite’s such as Herringbone, Mollini, Leona Edminston, Marcs, Nine West, and Zimmerman. The fashion chains are here including Portman’s and Espirit and beautiful stores such as T2 where you can browse, sniff and poke around for hours.

In Brisbane the shopping scene has grown up and it is really easy to get around. You can do everything in a day and not come across the same store several times as you do in Sydney and Melbourne. Among the well-known chains, independents and bespoke retailers still appear to be thriving, offering excellent service and interesting ware.

And for a more eclectic, fashion-forward experience, jump in a cab to Fortitude Valley (or The Valley as it was known in my day). Here you’ll discover beautiful designers such as Eastern Pearson, Sass & Bide, Scanlan and Theodore and Dogstar.

James Street, down this end of town now has an urban energy which I find  hard to fathom having worked in the area in the 90’s. Fashion, art, design, music and food all feature strongly and having a cold glass of wine in the sunshine after browsing stores, listening to some smooth tunes, makes you believe life can’t get any better.

But it does, thanks to the TRS (Tourist Refund Scheme) which has changed recently making shopping in Brisbane even sweeter. Overseas passengers can claim back GST on purchases. . The big bonus now is you’re not required to have all your spend in one retailer on one receipt – it can be on multiple receipts.

It’s not hard to claim, but it pays to be organised and plan ahead.

To claim a refund you have to:

(1)  spend AUD $300 (GST inclusive) or more in one store (or chain) and obtain tax invoices (receipts).  If you bought several smaller priced items from different shopping visits at Myer for example they must total more than  $300. Plan ahead and keep all your receipts in one safe place.

(2)  have the goods with you when you leave Australia. This is where you need to be organised. Pack all your purchases on the top of one bag/suitcase you can easily open for inspection. This means getting to the airport with enough time to do this before check-in. They inspect the products and stamp your form/invoices/receipts prior to check-in.

(3)  after immigration, in departures find the TRS counter where your refund is processed and given to you get on the spot. Genius!

The more you have bought, the more you get back. A true shopper’s logic.

I’m almost over the shock that Brisbane is a well curated retail mecca. It’s also easy to navigate with wonderful weather (now they just need daylight savings). The scene has grown up and is as good as Sydney or Melbourne for a bit of retail therapy. It deserves a place on your list for a long weekend (shopping weekend that is).

For more detailed information on the TFS go to http://customs.gov.au/faq/TRS.asp

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