In China, online sales last year skyrocketed past the records set on America's own Black Friday. However, in many cities throughout China, physical shopping locations are still alive and bustling with the youth of the modern era. Beneath the city streets, China's young people shop for clothing and gadgets in popular underground fashion markets.
Where to Go
Expansion in Chinese cities is often limited horizontally, inspiring the towering skyscrapers that are iconic of Chinese skylines. However, beneath the city streets is also prime real estate for small shops and businesses.
Underground streets stretching for what feels like miles can be found in the shopping districts and pedestrian areas of major Chinese cities. These shopper's paradises can be found in Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Guilin, and more!
Typically, these markets open later in the day and stay open longer than the shops above the surface.
What to Expect
Shops in these types of markets typically offer unique and trendy items that you may not see as much of on the surface. Anything from clothing, to electronics, to food, and even beauty salons can be found in these labyrinths of consumerism.
Small booths with watchful attendants line walkways filled with people looking for a good bargain. The shops in these markets are usually very small and offer little room to maneuver. Items will be hung from the walls and ceilings to utilize as much space as possible.
If it is your first time shopping in China, we recommend reading up on the popular things to buy and how to buy them.
First timers may find themselves unable to pass the groups of Chinese shoppers walking arm-in-arm or even hand-in-hand. This is a common sight and is culturally appropriate for all genders in China, but is especially noticeable with the young women who frequent these types of markets.
China has long been known for its crowded public spaces and shopping areas are some of the best examples. When exploring a market in China, dealing with crowds is all part of the experience. While you may not have to watch out for cars or minibikes on the underground streets, your fellow shoppers present their own hazards.
See How to Deal with Culture Shock in China.
Like most markets in China, fashion undergrounds tend to prefer bartering to price tags. Rarely will you find goods marked with set prices in these situations.
Building a rapport and haggling the price of an item is a cultural norm for all of China. It is part of what makes going to these local markets such interesting experience.
The general rule is to offer a little under half of the first price mentioned as your counter offer. From there, the shop clerk will use their calculator and smile to come to a reasonable price for the item in question. Knowing a few helpful phrases will come in handy for this process, but you don't have to be fluent to get the price you want.
Travelers looking to enjoy the experience should try to let go of any awkward feelings they may have about questioning and proposing prices and just try to enjoy the process. How to bargain is one of our Top 5 First Time to China Tips.
What to Buy
In these youth oriented markets the items you can find vary widely. Anything from hair accessories, clothing, electronics, jewelry, and all sorts of gadgets can be found along the twisting tunnels.
Many of these items will be cheap reproductions of well known brands. Keep in mind that you get what you pay for with such reduced prices. If the price is too good to be true, it probably is! That being said, the amount and variety of items available still makes it a wonderful place to find unique souvenirs or gifts for yourself.
Some of the favorite buys travelers have made include: t-shirts with amusing English translations, "Prada" handbags, character themed phone accessories, quirky Korean fashions, and more!
Most shopping markets will ensure you don't return to the surface too quickly by placing enticing food courts in all the central areas.
Food in these locations will range from east to west. You can often find juice or milk tea bars, sushi restaurants, pizza joints, hot pot, or even a waffle stand. The food will most often be fast and delicious. It's a great place to go if you're looking to try out something new or just need a quick bite to fuel your next shopping spree.
Food courts in these setting will typically operate using a meal card instead of cash. Locate the kiosk near the entrance to purchase and top off your card which you can then use at all of the restaurants nearby.
Selfie sticks and sushi rolls aren't the only reasons to explore China's underground fashion markets. You will also find plenty of services catered to the young and fashion conscious.
Young women come to these markets to enjoy the nail salons, facials, eyebrow threading, and more. Take a break from shopping to sit down to a soothing pedicure and facial for the ultimate fashionista experience. Prices at beauty salons will often be set and not open to bartering. Keep your eyes open for a sign denoting prices before you try to barter for that facial.
Plan Your Own Shopping Experience in China.
Let China Highlights show you the best shopping in Asia with a custom tour of China's grandest cities. Our tours are "shopping detour free", unless you'd like to do some shopping of course. What types of souvenirs will you bring home?