Home China Guide China Tourism Shopping in China - Things to Buy and Not to Buy

Shopping in China - Things to Buy and Not to Buy

What to Buy

Shopping in ChinaMost 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.

Don't buy everything in the first day or two.  Each city has its own specialty.  Some of the best buys are:

  • Beijing:  cloisonné; fresh water pearls
  • Xi'an: replicas of the Terracotta Warriors, Tang Dynasty hand painted china, antique furniture
  • Shanghai: silk carpets, qipaos
  • Hangzhou: Longjing tea, silk
  • Suzhou: silk
  • Guilin: scroll paintings, South China Sea pearls
  • Yunnan: mounted butterflies, Pu'er tea; Dali batik (tie-dyed fabric)
  • Xinjiang: carpets, jade articles (for which please see our warnings below), dried fruit
  • Tibet: thangka (tanka: sheep skin wall hangings)
  • Guangzhou: wholesale markets for clothes, shoes, toys, electronic products and more.

Shopping Is Not Obligatory

Don't feel obligated to shop. Our guides offer shopping opportunities as a courtesy (if you opt out of our NO SHOPS policy), but if you're not interested, you will not get any pressure at all from us.

Other 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.

Outside tourist spots or on the road, 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. See Avoiding Tourist Traps.

Be Cautious of Fake Items

Shopping is great in China and you can expect to be able to buy many things at a much better price that at home.Please however be warned that if a bargain price for a world famous brand seems too good to be true... it probably is!

Brand Names

At the same time, beware of famous brand items which are selling at a more reasonable price. Needless to say, sellers have caught on to the fact that a price set too low is suspicious, so some have taken to upping their prices accordingly.

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.

Antiques and Jade, etc.

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.

Piracy

Please also be aware of piracy. This is so endemic in China that it is difficult to make official purchases of such items as DVDs and CDs. Consequently, these are to be avoided given that they will cause difficulties with customs upon your return home.

The same applies to computer software. Installation disks may be tempting if you have your laptop with you and decide to dispose of the disks themselves before returning home, but the fact a copy of Microsoft Windows, for example, is pirated will be detectable during the updating procedure, and may lead to reduced functionality. In addition to this, viruses are common on pirated software disks in China.

Piracy extends far beyond these more obvious items. Books, designer-label clothing and accessories, famous-name watches, and a host of other items will be available to you at ridiculously low prices. These are, of course, also pirated, so beware bargains, particularly those set at ridiculously low prices.

Though reputable-looking department stores may seem good places for reputable goods, they are still no guarantee. Your best guard against piracy is common sense. Given that piracy is rife, those things which are readily copied, or which are branded so as to make them worth the effort of copying, are probably best avoided altogether in China.

More Reasons to be Wary

Import restrictions

You should check the import restrictions in your home country as some items may attract tax upon your return, especially if mailed or shipped separately.

Excess baggage

It may seem obvious, but it is always worth reminding yourself that you will have a restricted luggage allowance for your return flight.

Electronic items

Remember to check for voltage differences. Provided your home country's voltages are the same as those in China, then you should be fine. If not, you may find your electronic goods to be unworkable upon your return home. However, there is still the question of whether or not you will be able to plug it in. Chinese sockets are not universal so again, please check before making any purchase. See China Power Supply and Adapters for more information. Once again, be aware of the possibility of import duties imposed upon the goods you buy in China.

Electronic goods are, in any case, often more expensive in China than elsewhere, and should you find bargains then again, be suspicious. Always be sure to check any electronic goods you buy before leaving the shop. Ask for a demonstration. Also be sure to package such goods securely for the return journey.

Mobile phones and comparable devices

These are best not bought in China. Android phones in particular will not be able to connect with Google Play, necessitating the use of third-party app providers which may prove risky. However, other devices may, too, be adapted to the Chinese market in terms of restricted usage and various additional apps and hidden programs you would rather not have on your phone. These can be difficult to remove, and any effort you make to do so may lead to the device becoming unusable.

Jade

Unless you know what you are buying, it is best to stick with low-ticket items when purchasing jade. That which is presented to you as high-quality may be a low-quality stone, or even entirely fake. Cheap baubles abound and may be readily purchased, but some cheap baubles come with a price tag well beyond their value.

Batteries

Regular batteries are readily available and generally reliable. However, product-specific batteries such as those for cameras, portable computers, mobile phones etc. may be unreliable. These have been known to malfunction catastrophically, even dangerously. Such batteries are best purchased from clearly reliable outlets, and even then it is best to stick with brand suppliers rather than go for cheap imitations which, at best, are likely to rapidly degrade with successive recharging.

Children's toys

These do not always meet the safety standards you would expect back home. Please be exceptionally careful when purchasing such items, particularly as gifts for younger children.

Medicine

Sadly, medicines may also be faked. Should you require medicines, please be certain to purchase them from large and clearly reputable outlets. Fatalities resulting from the purchase of fake medicines in China have been known.

Food

When buying food as gifts to take home, be aware you may face import restrictions in your home country. Once again, check the regulations before you go. Such items are usually reliable when purchased from a reputable department store, but those from smaller outlets may be best avoided. Remember to check for any sell-by dates, and do not purchase goods which require refrigeration and may begin to spoil on your return journey.

Factory rejects

These tend to find their way out of the manufacturers' bins and into the marketplace. Sometimes it may be that it is nothing more than an item of clothing with less-than perfect stitching on an inner seam, and you've got yourself a bargain. However, it may also be that a USB stick is being sold at a very low price by a street-side stallholder because it simply doesn't work. Inspect such bargains carefully, and consider the nature of the goods you are buying. If it is an item you are unable to check out fully before handing over your money, then that may be money you are simply throwing away.

Safety first!

Being ripped off may be galling, but it is a transient irritation. Your health, however, and the health of those to whom you may present gifts from your travels upon your return home, is of paramount importance. In any purchase you make, be aware of the health and safety implications for yourself and for the recipient of your purchase. Health and safety regulations are not as punctiliously observed in China as in some other countries, and goods sold locally often fail to meet the standards required of those manufactured for export.

Smart Shopping — How to Bargain in China

Bargaining is a national pastime in China so you will find that most retailers except for department stores, large shopping malls will be prepared to bargain. Prepare some small change for buying inexpensive stuff. Vendors are usually reluctant to find change for a 100 yuan note.

qinghefang pedestrian street

There's lots of shopping to do in the capital city (and other places in China), but it's important to be prepared by understanding how find the best prices for the goods you want. Aside from knowing where to go and what to shop for, make sure your bargaining skills are up to snuff, or you may end up paying far more than you should have.

Bargaining Tips

Regardless of the market you go to, here are some tips to help you get the best price on all your goods.

Bring your poker face

Rule number one of bargaining: never (ever!) act like you absolutely must have the item. Salesmen love customers that are excited about a product – it means they can price it much higher. Play it cool – if you see something you really want, keep a straight face and act like you'd rather walk away than pay a fortune, and you'll get a much better price.

Start low

Really low. Depending on the market, the starting price could be 7 or 8 times what it should be. Keep this in mind when you throw out your first price. You can always go up from there, but you can't go back down.

Shop around

See something you like? Walk around and see if other stands have it. That way, if you can't get the price you want, you can always walk away and try a different stand.

Observe other people. If someone else is buying the same thing for a reasonable price, tell the seller you want the same price. Sometimes you can avoid the back-and-forth routine altogether!

Be firm, but stay polite

Don't underestimate the importance of allowing the seller to save face.  Sometimes, negotiations do not go the way you planned. Especially in larger clothing markets, sellers may act outraged by a low price, but keep your cool. Often if you say something insulting, or even quote a price that is ridiculously low, the seller may decide not to sell to you at all.

Come back for more

If you know what you want, and you've gotten a certain price from that stand before, sometimes you can save time by just assertively saying that price from the get-go. They see that you know, and they want to save their time too. You can also get a better deal when you buy multiple things from the same seller.

The 'nasty husband' trick

A good one for couples who fancy trying out their acting skills. Gentlemen. You are the irritated husband who is tired of his wife spending all his hard-earned money. Ladies. You are the long-suffering wife who has to argue for every cent your husband spends on you. If the seller believes he has to convince the man who doesn't even want to make a purchase, the price should plummet.

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