We have visited Serravalle Outlet Mall several times over the years. Our recent visit was in April this year and I wish to comment on the new Tax Refund Office located in the mall itself. While it appears to offer convenience to shoppers, the conclusion is better off to do the tax refunds at the Milan airport.
We walked into the office, greeted warmly by a lady asking when we are flying off and have our passports ready. We were told that we could get cash refunds upfront at the mall, but still need to get our receipt documents stamped at the airport. This looked to help save time at the airport. Here comes the surprises when we sat in front of the agent for the refund: (Surprise 1) no refund in Euro. Its US/Euro exchange rate is 6% lower than the current market rate. Then I realized this refund office is run by a Currency Exchange company, and they need to make money on the exchange rate. The agent even tried to lead me to believe the refund offices at the airport do not refund in Euro either (they do).
We decided to proceed as our purchase amount is not big. (Surprise 2) Then we realized our refunds were significantly less than expected even after accounting for their exchange rate. Upon questioning, the agent (their smiles now gone) admits to a 11.9% admin charges on the refund amount. When we further question its practice of making money both on exchange rates and admin charges, the agent said the admin charges are negotiable! Apparently each agent has the discretion to set her own admin charges - we negotiated down to 3%.
Why do refund at the airport? The refund companies including Global Blue and Premier Tax charge an admin fees too - the percentage depends on the refund amount. In my case, the Global Blue fees were 13% of the refund amount (small purchase) and the Premier Tax fees were 4% (bigger purchase). However, they refund in Euro and so shoppers would not incur exchange rate loss.
More importantly, the Malpensa Airport combines the custom function with the tax refund function – the tax refund operators at Counter 12 on the departure level would stamp the receipts previously performed by the Custom Office. In the past, shoppers could queue up as much as 3 times: (1) check in luggage custom stamp before security; (2) carry on luggage custom stamp after security; and (3) cash refund after security. For purchased items in check in luggage, you would only queue once now. You would not have saved time by getting cash upfront at the Outlet mall, as you would still need to queue up to get your receipt documents stamped.
One more tip – I submitted purchase receipts on carry on items together with check in luggage items at Counter 12, and get my cash back at the same time. The whole process took me less than 30 mins. Note that April is not high tourist season and travelers should still allocate sufficient time at the airport to get tax refunds.