Travel, Teach, Live in China
Over the past decade, China has enjoyed a remarkable economic boom and with this a massive demand for consumer goods. As a result, major cities in China have become shopping paradises, and alongside young Chinese consumers, more and more tourists from abroad are coming to major Chinese cities hoping to take advantage of a low currency, as well as less stringent copyright laws allowing for a proliferation of cheap copies of nearly everything from designer clothes and jewellery to iPhones, mp3 players and even laptops. Although not strictly legal in China, the government and police generally turn a blind eye to the countless markets and kiosks offering consumer goods at a fraction of the original price
The sheer amount of "knock off" goods in China can be staggering to Westerners; just walking around the central part of any city you will see tables and stalls set up on street corners selling cheap jewellery, cigarettes etc. As a westerner, you will often be approached by street hawkers offering cellphones, branded clothes and so on. More popular with young Chinese people are the shopping arcades filled with small shops and outlets selling all sorts of fake goods at incredible prices.
The arcades, as you would expect, are generally a bit more respectable and trustworthy than street sellers since they have an address and so on. Although China is a safe country, just like anywhere in the world there are thieves and con men preying on the more affluent. Personally I have never bought anything from a street hawker.
The main danger when shopping for bargains in China is the quality. Obviously, since you are paying a fraction of the price, you do not expect the same quality, but some of the goods on sale at these markets is of incredibly low quality and not fit for purpose. The quality of goods can vary immensely at these places, from high quality goods only lacking the official branding of the big names, to complete rubbish. Again, you have to decide if you are getting good value for your money. Don’t be shy – closely examine anything before you buy it.
The shops in these arcades generally don’t have marked prices, or if they do, they are open to negotiation. Although most shopkeepers will have fairly poor English, if any, it is still possible to bargain using a pen and paper or anything which can represent numbers. Generally, the first price you are offered will be way too high and they will expect you to make a lower offer, even with very little effort you should be able to get the price down to at least 30% of the first offer. It’s also worth trying to get a deal if you are buying a few things. Remember that they will not be offended by your attempts to get a better price. Everywhere in China, except the high street shops, negotiating prices is still very common, and as a foreigner they will assume that you have a lot of money to spend and will often try to take advantage of your unfamiliarity with the culture.
Overall, due to the low currency and relaxed approach to copyright, if you are visiting China and have any free time, it is worth finding a shopping street where you can have a very enjoyable day bargain hunting.