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Living in China

Going Shopping in China

If you like to shop, China is the right place for you! Shopping is one of the nation’s favorite pastimes and you can find pretty much anything you can think of at very reasonable prices. For the best experience shopping in China, learning to haggle is a must. Read on for tips on where to shop and how to bargain for the best prices.

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Silk Markets and Friendship Stores: Where to Shop

Where you choose to do your shopping in China depends on what you’re looking for and what style of shopping you prefer. Especially in the big cities, there are a growing number of luxury department stores and shopping malls. If bargaining and getting a good deal is more up your alley, then check out the many flea markets, street markets, and night markets.

Department stores, shopping malls, and shops are generally open from 10:00–22:00 every day of the week. The opening times for markets vary, with some only open on the weekend, some at night, and some all week long.

Friendship stores are Chinese-run state stores, which were originally opened for foreign tourists doing some shopping in China, but now cater to the wider public. They are a good place to find English books and magazines. They also sell souvenirs and other items, but you can definitely get a better deal elsewhere.

Here are a few of the most popular places to shop in Beijing:

  • The Silk Alley Market: Despite the name, this 5-story indoor market offers much, much more than just silk products. In several hundred stalls crammed in right next to each other you’ll find “name brand” clothing, shoes, luggage, sunglasses, toys, handicrafts and more.
  • The Oriental Plaza: This new luxury shopping mall is stocked with all the name brand and luxury products your heart desires. When shopping in China, keep in mind that imported luxury products are quite expensive, due to high tariffs and value-added tax.
  • Panjiayuan Weekend Market: This giant open-air flea market boasts over 3,000 stalls and is open from dawn to around 15:00 on weekends.

Shanghai also has some not-to-be-missed shopping experiences:

  • Nanjing Road: This is the main shopping street in Shanghai, with scores of luxury shops and department stores stretching from East to West Nanjing Road.
  • Hauihai Road: This is your stop for designer labels, which are sold in this area’s many malls and department stores.
  • Dongtai Road Antique Market: If an outdoor street bazaar is more your style, head out near Hua Hai Park to stock up on (mostly fake) antiques, porcelain, jewelry, and more.

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More Than Just Souvenirs: What to Shop for

What should you keep your eyes open for while shopping in China?

  • Clothes: You can find “name brand” clothing here at a fraction of its cost in Western countries. Be careful about the quality, however, especially when buying shoes and outdoor wear.
  • Inexpensive, high-quality jade and porcelain
  • Fabric, silks, and embroidered goods
  • Decorative lacquerware
  • Jewelry, handicrafts, and “antiques” — but beware, many antiques aren’t really that ancient. If they are actually over 100 years old, you will need a receipt of sale to get them through customs and take them out of the country.

It is best to bring your electronics with you to China, or buy them in Hong Kong or Macau, as the import duties on these items is high in the rest of China. In any case, remember to keep your budget and the cost of living in China in mind before going on a shopping spree.

The Ancient Art of Haggling

Your experience of shopping in China would not be complete without some good old-fashioned haggling. Depending on your country of origin, you may be completely unfamiliar with the practice of bargaining to get a reasonable price. You may even feel guilty at the idea of refusing to pay the original price, as that may already seem inexpensive to you. However, haggling is part of the fun of shopping in China and it’s expected of everyone, especially if you don’t want to come off as a clueless laowai. Learning some Chinese can be really helpful in for this situation.

How does haggling work?

First of all, when shopping in China it’s important to know where haggling is allowed and expected and where it is not. In general, whenever you are in a large store or department store where the prices are clearly marked, you should not expect to be able to bargain the price down. Any independently owned stores and markets, on the other hand, are fair game.

When you are shopping in China and see an item you like, the seller will make you an initial offer. Before you actually buy anything, it is a good idea to get a general idea of what an actual, reasonable price (i.e. the local price) is.

You can accomplish this by offering to pay an amount that is much, much lower than the seller’s original asking price, say 20%, or even less. Remember, as soon as you make your first counter-offer, the price will only go up from there! You may bargain back and forth with the seller a few times, getting closer to agreeing on an amount somewhere in the middle. When bargaining while shopping in China, it is important to remain calm and polite and also to not appear too interested in the item you wish to purchase.

The Walk-Away Strategy

If you’re not sure yet what a reasonable price is, try walking away at some point in the negotiations. If the seller calls you back, he or she is willing to knock more off the price. If the seller lets you go, then your counter-offer was too low, and the seller would not have made a profit. Once you learn the walk-away price of a certain item, you can haggle for it with more confidence.

While haggling, pointing out the item’s many flaws (real or invented) can help lower the price. The seller will often have pen and paper or a calculator to help facilitate the bargaining process.

Make sure to never show large denomination bills in your wallet, as then the seller will know you can afford to pay more. Also, to boost your success rate, it is a good idea to not wear very expensive clothing or jewelry when shopping in China.

Haggling can be a bit time consuming and take some getting used to, but in the end, it can be one of the best parts of shopping in China and it’s a great feeling to know you worked hard to get that good deal!

Updated on: December 06, 2018
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