Markets and Trade

Bustling Commerce and the Art of Shopping in Mexico

Since Aztec times Mexico has been a hot-bed of trade and commerce, and today customers here enjoy a wide range of shopping choices

Supermarket Shopping in Mexico

When the Spanish made their first appearance in Tenochtitlán, they were astounded by many things, not least the size of the ancient Aztec city and the bustling commercial activity they witnessed.

From street stalls to shopping malls

To this day, Mexico remains a hot-bed of trade and commerce, offering customers street stalls, outdoor markets, indoor markets, mini plazas with a dozen or so stores and restaurants inside, full-blown US-style shopping malls—and plenty of supermarkets.

In a country criticized for lack of competition in a number of major industries, retail commerce is clearly an exception. Depending where you live in Mexico —it varies from place to place— you may have a choice of four or more supermarkets to shop at, in addition to a plethora of local stores and markets.  The bigger the location, the greater the choice, with suburban residential areas tending to be better served.

Supermarkets and membership emporiums

The main supermarket chains in Mexico are Walmart, Superama, Soriana, Chedraui, and the Mega hypermarkets. There are also US-style membership stores such as Sam’s Club and Costco, and smaller economy supermarket formats like Bodega Aurrera and Sumesa.

In the higher-end markets serving foodies and niche lifestyle interests, Mexico  offers shoppers an ample choice of specialized imported and homeware retail stores including La Europea, CityMarket, and in some areas the US-based hypermarket HEB.

Quaint towns with mini-markets and tienditas

Smaller towns, and some neighborhoods in bigger cities, tend to have independent “Mini Super” stores: quaint and provincial in look and feel, these shops stock everyday groceries across a range which is more extensive than local tienditas but fall quite short of the larger supermarkets.

The battle for your regular custom happens on the radio

The supermarket chains in big cities stores are constantly advertising on the radio and coming up with special offers to attract customers, as some will turn up for a single item or line of goods on offer.  The main message is always: “shop with us, we’re cheaper.”  This approach involves several marketing ploys that include price matching, price comparisons, loyalty cards, discounts with points, and interest-free credit under agreements with Mexican banks—to name a few.  The permutations can be mind-boggling.

El Buen Fin: Mexico’s Black Friday Shopping Event

On the November 20 holiday weekend, most of the retailers across Mexico join-in “El Buen Fin,” a promotional stint offering discounts and other savings, emulating the US tradition of Black Friday: the day after Thanksgiving when stores begin their holiday-season sales.  The initiative, that was first introduced in 2011, was a success and has since become a de-facto annual shopping event in Mexico, with some shops offering promotional discounts in the weeks before and after the holiday weekend.

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  1. Lance N says

    Just to mention a few others, particularly in the Northeast: H-E-B is a Texas based supermarket chain that has made major inroads into Mexico over the past 20 years. Their Mexican division is HQ’d in Monterey. Also, a couple smaller chains are S-Mart & Super Guarjardo, based out of Cd. Juarez, Chih. and Reynosa, Tamps. respectfully.

    P.S. Came across your article after reading news of Mexico’s anti-monopoly commission bringing charges against Walmart de Mexico (Nov. 2020).

  2. B.Buckman says

    I have lived in Mexico for 17 years and have shopped for food at everything from food stalls and tianguis to supermarkets and Costco. I agree with the article regarding the variety of food stuffs and sales, etc.. I would offer this caveat though. If you have been lucky enough to find a store that sells your favorite American brand of something ( in my case it’s Skippy creamy peanut butter) buy a bunch of it. Imported foods often appear and one feels elated that, finally, the thing you love is has come to Mexico. The thing is these items come and go. An imported brand may be available in your store for months, even a year or more, enough time for one to become complacent, assuming you are set for life. One day, after allowing your supply to get down to the last jar, box, package or can you will march down the grocery aisle to the exact spot where your goodie has been for ever so long and you will see something else in its place. Maybe it’s another brand of that thing you crave or, quite possibly , a completely different food item . It’s not only imported brands that disappear it happens with Mexican brands as well. My favorite brandy has become a chore to find and a certain brand of sliced American style cheese has gone missing. So, here’s the deal, if you find it buy it. I mean right then and some extra too because if you procrastinate or assume because the shelf is loaded that the item will be there for you at your leisure you setting yourself up for a disappointment.
    PS: Forget asking store personnel what happened to your brand. They will give you a quizzical look and ask if you are sure you bought it at this store and if you persist the standard closer is ‘ No han llegaron’.

    • Mexperience says

      Thanks B, for sharing this. It’s quite true that the batch-availbility of imported goods remains part of the ‘retail experience’ in Mexico, and we commented on this in a related article, No Hay:

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