By Michelle Fox, CNBC.com
For those who love to shop, the search for that must-have item can be as fun as owning the actual product. And some cities offer shoppers a bounty of options. So, where are the top shopping destinations around the globe?
To find out, CNBC spoke with a team of editors at Tobe Report, a trend forecasting firm that has been analyzing the retail industry for more than 80 years. To choose the world's best cities for shopping, the analysts at Tobe compared a variety of city characteristics, as well as what the location had to offer in terms of the ultimate shopping experience. Also included is expert insight on where to find the latest fashions and bargains, along with a listing of their favorite neighborhood shops.
The end result - a diverse list that provides consumers with some unique shopping choices. Read ahead to see the top 10 ultimate shopping paradises.
When people think couture, Paris is the city that usually comes to mind. In this European shopping mecca, fashionable stores inhabit beautiful neighborhoods, and stylish people not only strut down catwalks, but the Parisian streets.
"It's a place where architecture, history, a sense of beauty and magic all collide," Tobe Report assistant editor Alyssa Ciranni said.
The City of Light is home to five major department stores and 17,500 shops. And there are plenty of potential customers - 2.2 million people lived in the city as of January 2012, and 15.6 million tourists visited in 2011.
Check out: The Opera neighborhood has designer fashion stores and is the pulse of Parisian fashion. Ciranni recommends Colette, the original Paris concept store for high-end fashion, and department stores Galeries Lafayette and Printemps.
San Germain is a classic area to purchase chic designs and is home to Hermes, which opened in 2010. The store has three levels and includes flower, book and tea shops.
In the Les Marais district, shoppers can find eclectic fashions, unique jewelry, antiques and fine arts. IRO, which has a "vintage meets rock 'n' roll vibe," is a must-visit shop, according to Ciranni. Also on her list: Maje, a "quintessential piece of Parisian retail"; L'Eclaireur, which is a mix of directional fashion art and technology; and eclectic concept store Merci, which donates its profits to children's charities in India and Madagascar.
On the Champs-Elysees, shoppers can find a mix of global chains and couture designers mixed in with the various architectural and tourists spots like the Arc de Triomphe.
Hong Kong is all about luxury, convenience and exclusive merchandise, according to Tobe Report editor Amy Lan.
The city has seen an explosion in tourism, with 42 million visitors taking in Hong Kong in 2011. That's a 16.2 percent increase from 2010. And those tourists are shopping.
Most of those who visit Hong Kong are from mainland China, and Lan says they're looking to buy luxury goods at a lower cost.
"Hong Kong has lower import duties, a lot more merchandise, and with the relaxation of travel restrictions, more and more Chinese are coming to Hong Kong," she said.
Because of the influx of tourists, the service industry knows how to cater to an international clientele and can speak several languages.
Check out: Lan suggests visiting I.T., a home-grown chain store that is "very boutique-like in nature;" Massimo Dutti, located in several of the city's malls; and Kookai, a French label that has stand-alone stores but is also carried in some international department stores.
The city that calls itself the "live music capital of the world" is also a great place to shop, thanks to its economic expansion and selection of stores, according to Tobe Report.
Austin is booming - the metro area has a projected GDP growth rate of 6 percent a year through 2016, according to Moody's Analytics, double rate forecast for the U.S. Employment is also expected to grow twice as fast as in the entire U.S., at about 3.5 percent a year. Apple alone is expected to create more than 3,600 jobs when it opens its new operations center.
Austin, which prides itself in being "weird," has a shop for everyone - from big luxury stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom to smaller specialty stores. In fact, Tobe Report associate editor Rebecca McKinney says Austin "really nurtures small businesses and boutiques."
Check out: Stores of note include By George, which carries high-end labels; Kick Pleat, which has great "under-the-radar" names and established labels; Eliza Page, which sells local and independent jewelry; and specialty denim shop Hem Jeans.
If Texas tradition is what you're looking for, head to Allens Boots in the hip SoCo area and check out its selection of Western wear.
Tourists flock to Los Angeles for its warm weather and beaches, thanks to the 320 days of sunshine a year the city gets. In fact, L.A. experienced an all-time record for tourists in 2011, with 26.9 million people paying the city a visit.
And then there's the shopping. This large, spread-out city provides a lot of choices when it comes to spending.
"L.A. is very much a mall culture," Lan said. Many were built in the 1960s and '70s, but in 2010, Santa Monica Place was renovated and reopened. It has become the anchor mall in the Santa Monica beach area.
Check out: For a true L.A. mall experience, visit the aforementioned Santa Monica Place, Westfield Century City or Paseo Colorado.
Robertson Boulevard is a popular shopping district, and Kitson is one of the more popular shops on the street. Lan said Kitson's draw is its huge assortment of merchandise, from apparel to fun knick knacks.
Those interested in a quirkier shopping experience can hit Venice Beach to browse its wide range of shops, including designer clothing boutique Heist, and Nightcap, a quintessential Southern L.A. label that sells items like maxi dresses, T-shirts and yoga pants.
In Old Pasadena, shops and bistros are housed in restored, historic buildings. Apple and H&M are among the 200 national retailers and one-of-a-kind specialty boutiques in the area. The more budget-conscious or vintage-loving shopper can have a field day at the Rose Bowl flea market, which features more than 2,500 vendors. It is held in the parking lot of the Rose Bowl Stadium the second Sunday of every month.
For cutting-edge fashion and great people watching, head to Melrose Avenue. Many of the small boutiques offer fun, affordable clothing, Lan said.
Melbourne is known as the "Milan of Australia," said Tobe Report assistant editor Olivia Panella. The capital of Victoria, Australia, it is also the most multi-cultural city in the country, she said.
Tourists are pouring in. In 2011 alone, international visitors spent a record 4.3 billion Australian dollars in Victoria, up 9.4 percent from 2010. One incentive may be the government's tourist refund scheme, known as TRS, which pays a full refund on the taxes paid on good purchased while visiting the country.
The city also makes it easy for everyone to get around. Shoppers can hop between shops by taking the city's tram network - one of the largest in the world.
Check out: Swanton Street is a local, secret shopping area near Flinders Lane. Those in the know can find "a multitude of trendy vintage stores, bargain shopping and one-of-a-kind pieces," Panella said.
Flinders Lane is more well-known and has a cool, downtown vibe. Stores of note include Christine, which carries "fashion forward" accessories; Alice Euphemia, which attracts younger consumers with trendy pieces; and Gorman, which is known for vintage-inspired clothing.
Chapel Street is where the Australian designers have stores. It is also a go-to place for second-hand shops.
Queen Victoria Market is an enormous swap meet that would take days to cover in its entirety. Browsers can find anything from one-of-a-kind trinkets to hand-made sweaters.
For high-end designer stores, consumers head to Collins Street. Those looking for a true mall experience will find it at Melbourne Central, which has more than 300 stores, restaurants and a movie theater.
Big things are happening in London. Not only is the city hosting the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, it is throwing a big, three-day celebration in June - the Queen's Diamond Jubilee - to mark 60 years of Queen Elizabeth II's reign.
"The city right now is abuzz with excitement," Tobe Report's Rebecca McKinney said.
London's shops are getting in the game - focusing on visual merchandising and other ways to attract the tourists who will be flocking to the city.
When it comes to shopping in London, there is a lot of variety, according to McKinney. There is also plenty of British "quirk" to be found.
Check out: Oxford Street is great for high-end shopping. The flagship stores of clothing retailer Topshop and department store Selfridges are located here.
The Knightsbridge area is ideal for luxury shoppers. It is home to upmarket department stores Harvey Nichols and Harrods.
Second-hand clothes, young designers, art, furniture and jewelry can be found at Camden Markets, a collection of open-air and indoor markets located in Camden Town, North West London.
Carnaby Street is a pedestrian-only location known for independent shops and hippie styles.
A good spot to purchase menswear is Savile Row, which is famous for its custom tailors. Henry Poole and Co., which is credited with inventing the tuxedo, is located here and was the first Savile Row tailor.
An estimated 8.1 million people live in the five boroughs that make up the city, and more than six times that amount visit. In 2011, New York saw just over 50 million tourists who spent approximately $32 billion on things like lodging, eating and yes, shopping.
From designer labels on Fifth Avenue to knock-offs in Chinatown, there are plenty of choices for those who want to spend a little, or a lot, of cash.
"New York City is known for being a melting pot," Panella said. "That hits it on the head when it comes to shopping areas in the city."
Check out: The Lower East Side and Nolita, which stands for North of Little Italy, are full of the city's best-kept secrets, Panella said.
Orchard Street is the iconic street of the Lower East Side, where customers can find trendsetters and vintage stores. Be sure to visit David Owens for amazing silk scarves and mint condition dresses from the 1930s, and Daha, which is known for its vintage designer items.
In Nolita, the street to be on is Elizabeth Street. It has an array of boutiques from Erica Tanov to Ivana Helinski.
Across the East River, Williamsburg, Brooklyn is a rapidly growing, trendy area where hidden treasures can be found. Panella suggests stopping in at Jane's Closet and Le Grand Strip, which has secret events and invite-only live performances.
Copenhagen, Denmark is where many style forecasters go to spot trends, according to Lan. The city is a "great draw" - it's cosmopolitan, located on the water and although it's a big city, it has a cozy feel, she said.
The Danes are also leaders in design, and have always had a "unique angle," Lan added.
Every February and August, more than 60,000 designers, buyers and media descend upon the city for Copenhagen Fashion Week. There, they have a chance to view collections by Danish designers like Malene Birger and Peter Jensen. They also can partake in the Copenhagen Fashion Festival, which coincides with fashion week. Events include street parties, concerts and shopping events.
Check out: There are two major shopping streets in Copenhagen that offer everything from luxury goods to mass fashion.
Strøget claims to be the world's longest pedestrian street. Stores like Prada, Chanel and Louis Vuitton draw the moneyed crowd, but there are also more affordable shops like H&M for the budget conscious.
Købmagergade is the second major shopping street in Copenhagen and is home to larger names like Diesel, as well as smaller boutiques.
Philadelphia is a playground for history buffs, with the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall just two of the must-see sights. But between the historical offerings there are plenty of places to shop.
Ciranni says the City of Brotherly Love offers everything from high end merchandise to locally produced products. There's also an added bonus - no sales tax on clothing and shoes.
Check out: Center City is home to a mix of national retailers like Urban Outfitters, local retailers and trendy boutiques.
Rittenhouse Row claims to be one of the most exclusive shopping areas in the country, with specialty shops, spas, haute couture boutiques and national retailers. There are carefully curated collections at Boyds, and innovative women's wear at Joan Schepp. Ciranni also likes Knit Wit, which is "urban chic," and Arcada Boutique, which sells up and coming labels.
Old City is not only home to Independence Hall and the Betsy Ross House, it also has a wide array of stores. There are art galleries, hip boutiques, new-age designs stores and vintage shops. Ciranni suggests paying a visit to Sugarcube, which sells designer goods and vintage frocks.
Chestnut Hill is where the "city meets the suburbs," Ciranni said. Pedestrians can stroll along the cobbled streets and visit any number of specialty stores, antique shops, art galleries or chain stores.
No list of best cities for shopping would be complete without Milan. Virtually every fashion house in the world has a location in this Italian city. There are even guided shopping tours arranged for tourists looking to do a little browsing.
With all those choices, even the most serious shopper can get overwhelmed. What Tobe Report finds most compelling are the stores with special interests that have a "well-curated range of brands."
Check out: The Excelsior is a "must-see destination," according to the Tobe Report. Located in the Duomo neighborhood, it is a luxury brand store that is a go-to location for international brands.
Hit La Vetrina di Beryl for the best curated footwear selection in the city. It is also a dream stop for the fashion editor.
One of the most "influential, trend setting" stores in the world is 10 Corso Como, said the Tobe Report.
For tables, chairs, armchairs, lighting and accessories by the best designers from around the world, visit Spazio Rossana Orlandi.
"J.Crew & and the Man Who Dressed America" premieres Thursday, May 24 at 10 p.m. ET, with a re-air at 1 a.m. ET. For more show info, visit "J.Crew & The Man Who Dressed America"
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