The best market for manufactured and imported goods is heavily concentrated in central Chile, particularly in Santiago, Valparaíso, and Viña del Mar. Valparaíso, which serves as the shipping outlet for Santiago, is Chile's chief port. Concepción provides direct access to the markets of southern Chile and Antofagasta to those in northern Chile.
The predominant elements in the pattern of retail merchandising are the independent merchants. They sell their wares in small specialized stores, in municipally owned markets, or in free markets (ferias libres). There is a growing number of chain groceries and supermarkets. As of 2002, there were about 80 franchises supporting about 300 stores throughout the country. Shopping malls are showing up in major cities. Stores are owned primarily by Chileans, although foreign interests are represented in retail merchandising.
Some large segments of the economy are still controlled by business groups, but the number of small and medium-sized private companies is growing. An 18% value-added tax applies to most goods. Government policies toward privatization have been in effect since the 1970s and both foreign and domestic investments have been encouraged.
The usual retail business hours are from 10:30 AM to 7:30 PM , with half a day on Saturday. Business hours run from 9 AM to 6 or 7 PM , Monday through Friday, with a one hour lunch break at one. Normal banking hours are from 9 AM to 2 PM , Monday through Friday. It is common practice for stores and factories to close for about 15 days sometime between 1 December and 1 April for summer vacation. The business language is Spanish, but most business people also know English.