How to Shop and What Not to Buy in China

Shopping in China can be exciting and fruitful, or frustrating and dodgy if you don't know what you are doing—and they can tell. (Image:  pixabay  /  CC0 1.0)
Shopping in China can be exciting and fruitful, or frustrating and dodgy if you don't know what you are doing—and they can tell. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Shopping in China can be exciting and fruitful, or frustrating and dodgy if you don’t know what you are doing—and they can tell. Most travelers want to take home some bargains or mementos. With so many options available, shopping can be time consuming, confusing, and exhausting. The following tips may make it easier for you.

Be a haggler

Vendors know how to spot a tourist a mile away and hike the prices way up. Start by offering one-third of their price. If you can’t haggle, find someone to do it for you.

Plenty of variety

The best shopping is outside. Street venders are dedicated to a particular type of merchandise, great for comparison-shopping. Still, there might be some vendors who follow you and try to sell you something. If you are not interested, just ignore them and keep going.

Glasses

Glasses are much cheaper in China, so it can be worth stocking up while here, especially if you like to have a bunch of different stylish glasses designs. Glasses at opticians tend to be of decent quality, but do not expect the high end brands to be real.

Street venders are dedicated to a particular type of merchandise, great for comparison-shopping. (Image:  wikimedia /  CC0 1.0)

Street venders are dedicated to a particular type of merchandise, great for comparison-shopping. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Tailoring and clothes

Tailors and clothes are extremely cheap in China, but make sure you know what you are getting yourself into. Only get clothes made if you know what fabric you want, and have either an example of what you want copied, or have a solid idea in your head that you can draw out. Many people choose to have their prom dress, or a ball gown, made while in China because it is so much cheaper than having a dress tailor-made at home. This is an especially good souvenir if you go for a Chinese-style qipao dress.

Accessories and jewelry

China is the perfect place to pick up accessories and jewellery, and there is absolutely no shortage of places to do so. Most markets and tourist attractions will have shops selling everything from bracelets and necklaces to rings and jade accessories and jewelry. It is very important to remember that most trinkets picked up in tourist markets or at tourist sights will not be real silver or jade, and the quality will not be incredibly high. However, if you bargain hard it’ll be worth it.

Antiques and jade

Antique buyers should know that many experts have been disappointed to find that their find of a lifetime is beautiful but fake. Antiques should be officially certified to be exported legally. The penalties are severe. Keep all receipts, certificates and official documents that are received when you purchase any antiques. Antiques are those items over 120 years of age. When buying jade, also be wary. Unless you are something of an expert, it is best not to trust high-ticket jade items.

(Image: YouTube / Screenshot)

When buying jade, also be wary. Unless you are something of an expert, it is best not to trust high-ticket jade items. (Image: YouTube / Screenshot)

Be cautious of fake items

Beware of famous brand items, which are selling at a more reasonable price. Brand name goods in China (excluding Hong Kong) are generally overpriced due to a luxury tax. If you find a good deal on high-end brands, it’s probably fake, even in state-owned stores and museums. Given that genuine designer goods tend to be more expensive in China than elsewhere, it is best to leave such purchases for your return home.

Books, DVDs, famous-name watches, and a host of other brand name items will also be available to you at ridiculously low prices. These are, of course, also pirated, so beware bargains, particularly those set at ridiculously low prices.

Don’t expect to return or exchange items

There are no refunds, exchanges, or credit in Chinese stores. Inspect what you are purchasing—not just the sample—before you pay.

Shopping is not obligatory

Don’t feel obligated to shop. Tour guides and sellers may be quite enthusiastic, thinking this is what you want, so don’t be embarrassed to tell them directly and immediately that you don’t want to go shopping. You’ll often find several attendants trying to help you make a purchase. This doesn’t mean you have to buy; it’s OK to say no, or just to look around.

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