Given that China has become the factory of the world, you would have thought that it would be a shopper’s paradise, packed with outlet malls and cut price markets. In actual fact, China has changed so fast in the last few years that shopping is not as good as it used to be.
Goods that are produced for export are just that – made for export – and are not readily available in local stores. Sometimes you can find rejects or over-runs on sale, and these goods are sold at well below the prices they fetch overseas. But more often than not, you will simply never see the latest Barbie doll or Marks and Spencer underwear.
Nowadays, electronic goods such as iPods and laptops are assembled in factories in Shenzhen and elsewhere. Does that mean they are cheaper in China? No, in fact prices are roughly on a par with the West. Of course, imitation knock offs are for sale. So if you are happy with a phone that looks like an iPhone but runs different software, then you can pick one up for a song. If you do buy genuine electronic hardware here, be aware that it may not come with an international warranty. Some brands only provide a local China warranty for their products that are sold in China.
Of course, many visitors to China are looking for traditional Chinese products, not for modern Western goods. Chinese tea, Chinese medicine, artwork such as scrolls or calligraphy, traditional clothing and all kinds of souvenirs are available everywhere there are tourists. The key thing to remember is to bargain hard for everything and be prepared to walk away if the seller does not come down. If you do not speak Chinese, just use a pocket calculator to punch in the amount you are willing to pay. Naturally, prices tend to be higher for the foreigner, so if you are determined to get a good deal, find a local to buy things for you.
Some products such as antiques do require a certificate of authentication if they are to be exported. Other items such as knives might be confiscated at the airport, and food products must be well sealed, so be careful what you buy. If you decide to buy large products such as marble vases or carved wooden furniture, the shop can usually arrange shipping to save you the hassle of carrying these things yourself.
More and more, Chinese cities are building huge malls like in the West, full of Armani and Christian Dior shops. But you can still find street markets where you tend to find cheaper things. There are also wholesale markets, called ‘pifa shichang’ in Mandarin, where the best deals are to be had.