It was the last day of my week long trip to Shanghai and I had plans to go gadgetry shopping. I took a cab and asked the driver to take me to PC Mall, one of the biggest electronics bazaars in the city. The driver had his own expert views. He told me, “You should probably go to a Best Buy instead of PC Mall”. Best Buy started their largest ever electronics mart, which is located here in Shanghai, in the year 2006. The company is already running two marts in the city now and has plans of opening at least another four in the next few years. But I was determined to visit a traditional tech bazaar like the PC Mall where I could have fun bargaining for electronics as if I was do when I buy vegetables in India. Best Buy people frown at the thought of bargaining, even in a country like China.
When the taxi driver dropped me at the gate of this five-storeyed electronics bazaar, my first reaction was – ‘Holy mother of God! What is this place?’ The city houses several electronics marts like this one, but since this was the first time I had to enter such an establishment, I was feeling a little overwhelmed. My eyes were surveying the building. The place was buzzing with gadgets of all possible kinds and sizes. Before I could decide where to start my journey, four vendors approached me and almost started begging me to visit their respective counters.
I remembered the taxi driver telling me, “If you are not a local, the shopkeepers will act like vampires.” These sales clerks had the latest models of Sony, Dell and Toshiba notebooks in their hands and each of them was trying to convince me to visit his booth. “Come and have a look at our latest products,” one of them said, the other one was quick to add, “Come this way, we are offering products at discounted rates.” I tried to ignore them as I rushed in quickly and as a result the sales people automatically started focusing on the next person who entered after me.
I wasn’t looking to buy anything heavy-duty like a laptop or a television. I just wanted to buy a few doodads and some accessories for my other electronics sitting at home. I started by purchasing a web camera. I stopped at a booth. They had at least 15 different webcams on display. Some of these webcams had popular nametags attached like Logitech and Intex while others were manufactured by local companies. After going through the specifications of a few options I asked the pretty girl, how much for this locally produced 3 megapixel webcam? She quickly replied, “180 Yuan.” I contemplated for two seconds and offered her 100 Yuan instead. She agreed almost instantly and that’s when I realised that my first attempt at bargaining has failed completely.
But then, I thought, a webcam at approximately 17 dollars was not that horrible a deal. I would have to pay at least 50 dollars back in Australia. But anyhow, I vowed to stick to popular brands for the rest of my bucket list so that I’ll be able to compare the prices later on by checking the actual prices of the products on the internet. The next thing I got was a mini speaker for my laptop. I opted for a BoomBox speaker, which I knew would cost me around 55-65 dollars back in Australia. The shopkeeper said 450 Yuan (about 80 dollars) and I countered with 250 (43 dollars). I tried hard to maintain that “If you are interested then tell me, or else I have many other options” kind of look on my face. Finally, the shopkeeper gave in and started packing the speaker. So I was able to get the speaker for at least 10-20 dollars off the Australian price. No sales tax was added on my bill. I began to feel like a pro!
In the next few hours, I purchased stuff like a wireless router, hard drives and an extra RAM for my laptop. When I came back to my hotel suite, I was feeling pretty satisfied with what I have bought, but a part of me was so exhausted that I just wanted to sleep without even having my dinner. At that moment, I realised why stores like Best Buy are doing so well in megacities like Shanghai. Negotiating with the shopkeepers is a pain and being hauled by sales people trying to convince you to buy products you have never even heard of is a huge load of stress. Plus there is always a risk involved that whether your purchase will work as promised or you have simply wasted those 100-200 dollars on absolutely nothing.
If I had opted for Best Buy, I wouldn’t have faced such trauma. You won’t find desperate vendors at their stores and there will be no ‘if only I were savvier’ moments. If you are not satisfied with what you have got you can always come back and return it. Try doing that at a tech bazaar like PC Mall and you will realize what an ass you are. All these things make Best Buy a powerful company in cities like Shanghai. But honestly ask yourself, when you are in my shoes, wouldn’t you want to buy electronics from tech bazaars instead of the boring Best Buy stores. Because paying retail, that’s just for sissies.
Two Things you should know about Tech Bazaars
- Despite all components being manufactured in China, foreign goods are considered as imports and don’t get surprised when you see retail prices charged even higher than they would be in Australia.
- Debit cards and credit cards are still quite rare in China and most of the transactions are done by cash. So if you are planning to buy a laptop or worse, a home theatre system, you need to stuff a rather sizeable bag with cash.