How to shop for Electronics in China

 How to shop for Electronics in China

It was the last day of my week long trip in Shanghai and I had plans to go for some gadgetry shopping. I took a cab and asked the driver to take me to the PC Mall, one of the biggest electronics bazaars in the city. The driver had his own expert views as 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 about to 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 think from where to start my journey, 4 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 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 focussing 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 realized that my first attempt at bargaining has failed completely.
But then I thought, a webcam in 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 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 told me 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 at, at least 10-20 dollars off 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 realized 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 would have opted for Best Buy, I wouldn’t have faced such a trauma. You won’t find desperate vendors at their stores and there will be no ‘only if 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 a doofus 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 the 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 bills only. So if you are planning to buy a laptop or worse, a home theater system, you need to stuff a rather sizable bag with cash.

Sumit Panwar

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