There’s nothing more frustrating than having a zillion shops at your disposal and not knowing what kind of shops any of them are. So (after some extensive research) here is an American-English shopping translation guide to get you started, giving you a frame of reference for where you’ll be spending your time, and your money.
John Lewis: John Lewis is a mid to upscale department store. You can find designer brands or regular clothes, housing apparel, kitchen supplies, the works. It’s closest to the American stores Lord and Taylor or Dillards.
Debenhams: Debenhams is a mid scale department store, some designers. Closest to a Macys.
House of Fraser: Upscale department store, probably closest to a Nordstrom.
Marks & Spencer: It’s tough to find an American equivalent because M&S is mid scale, but it also often has a really great food section. I’d liken its merchandise to a JC Penney or Yonkers.
Selfridges: Selfridges is beautiful. Don’t miss the Lola’s Cupcakes in the center of the store! It has a wide selection of perfumes and designer brands and is most equivalent to Bloomingdales.
Primark: If your looking to save a quick buck, shop here. You can find decent clothes at very cheap prices. Primark has a department for everything from lingerie to men’s clothing. It’s closest to Walmart/Target.
Harrods: I had to include Harrods because no London experience is complete without a visit to Harrods and a ride on the Egyptian escalator. There is no other store like it in the world. Even Saks Fifth doesn’t compare. It’s not on Oxford Street, but if you take the tube to Knightsbridge or if you stroll across gorgeous Hyde Park, its just a quick 15 minute walk from the Marble Arch end of Oxford. Don’t miss the pet section (cute puppy beds for sale that run from 450 pounds sterling), or the children’s toy section, or the deli where you can eat lunch for 17 pounds, or the perfume room. Even if you’re not as rich as Madonna, it’s definitely worth a look around. All of the merch is beautifully packaged and the store is almost museum–like.
River Island: Amazing dresses in this store, definitely worth a check—equivalent to a Cache. There are some River Islands in the US but it’s more widespread in Europe.
Top Shop: Top Shop is department-store-like, sort of like an upscale H&M or Zara with a separate shoe department. The Top Shop on Oxford Street has cafes and other stores in the basement and a live DJ playing the floor.
Zara: Zara is coming to America more and more, but it’s like an upscale H&M or a lower scale Banana Republic.
La Senza: Victoria’s Secret
Jane Norman: Cute clothes for women between 20-30 years old, equivalent to Express. You can find clothes for the office and clothes for the club here.
Stores to Skip:
Vodophone, O2: Even though they look cool on the outside, they are just phone stores. Unless you need to top-up your mobile, skip these.
Street Vendors: Skip the guys on the streets that set up stands selling scarves and wallets and Union Flag t-shirts. There aren’t many of them but you can find better deals and more variety of stands at one of the markets. Stick to the real shops.