Conquering China’s Copy Markets
I’m often in need of replacement footwear thanks to the wear and tear they suffer while I carry out my job.
So whenever I find myself in the need for shoes there’s only one place in Shanghai I go, the copy market at Shanghai Science Museum train station.
Copy markets (fake markets) are everywhere in China. They’re enormous plazas filled with hundreds of individual little shops staffed by intense sales-hungry shopkeepers.
They can be mazes to walk through and difficult to navigate – some people get very stressed out while shopping there, but it’s a great way to find some unique products and super cheap fakes.
I have an amazing fake “Canada Goose” jacket I’ve been using for over two years and it still looks a million bucks.
Years ago, there use to be lots more options for copy markets but one-by-one they were shut down for one reason or another. It’s usually the darker, meaner ones that get the chop.
The remaining ones still in business are well lit, have legitimate vendors (KFC), and have reasonably nice albeit still pretty aggressive shopkeepers. I personally think every business student should be made to come to copy market for a crash course in negotiation.
Some of these shopkeepers absolutely take some tourists to the cleaners with their sales skills.
The trick to doing well at copy market is getting everything you need and want while spending only a fraction of the cash the shopkeepers are asking for.
Too often I see tourists go into these shops and give the shopkeepers the sticker price. The price they’re asking is far beyond what the product is worth and no amount of sly words, sales skills, or emotion should convince you otherwise.
Really, you should be paying 10% of the total price that the shopkeeper is asking for, 20% if you really want it.
There’s 5 main points to consider next time you’re copy shopping
You don’t need it
Don’t be attached to anything. Go into a shop and approach every product with a vibe that tells the world that you don’t care whether you get it or not. If the shopkeeper suspects that you really want it he’ll naturally get the upper hand in negotiations. If he doesn’t come down enough on price, leave it in the store and get out. I guarantee it’s being sold down the laneway at a better price.
He doesn’t need you
Don’t shop with anyone that’s not begging you to come into the store.
If the store keeper is lazing around outside half asleep on a deck chair, chances are he’s had a great day and he’s in no mood to come down on his prices.
I like to shop with the hungry ones, the desperate shopkeepers who need a sale urgently and grab your arm and tell you how pretty you are – that guy is going to come way down on his price to get a sale.
Tip: Try to avoid touching something you won’t end up buying. Doing this dials up their aggression over 9000
You don’t need that price
Never accept the first price. No matter how reasonable it seems, no matter what the price is; its too much 100% of the time.
My reaction to any price being offered is never a positive one. I begin to walk away seeming disinterested – doing this will draw out a far more reasonable second offer.
You don’t need that store
Don’t be afraid to leave the store. They will follow you if you’ve chosen a shopkeeper desperate enough.
If you’ve remembered to be unattached to the product and remembered to let him know that the price is unreasonable, he will come down dramatically as you walk away. He will either follow you or scream out after you and if he does, you’ve got your prize.
You don’t need that guilt
Don’t feel guilty.
No matter how low you go on the price, the shopkeeper will still profit from the amount you pay, no matter how emotional they get or any tantrums they throw.
Regardless of whether their profit from your purchase is large or small it doesn’t matter, he will win regardless. They will always win because they’ll always be kept fat from the newbies, the tourists who don’t bother haggling and pay full price.
They’ll also always win because they’ve usually obtained their merchandise for very next to nothing. They’ll be fine.
You got this
If you work at it and practice, you can easily walk away from copy market with extremely inexpensive items like clothes, footwear, toys, just about anything.
Beware the electronics though; they tend to either not work or break quickly. These days I stick mostly to clothing and footwear.
Footwear is a great and a common choice for foreigners because most clothing stores don’t carry large enough sizes. Copy market can be the only choice if your feet are big enough, but your dependence on them shouldn’t mean that you let yourself get ripped off.
Some criticism I’ve been given is that it’s exploitative to aggressively negotiate with local Chinese businesspeople, that us foreigners should support local business.
While I agree with that, I don’t see the copy market as local business.
If you actually want to support local business there are incredible art and restaurant districts where you can buy exquisite hand-made goods at prices that are good for you and great for them.
There are also farmers markets with incredible goods being made and sold by both Chinese locals and expats. My favourite is Jiashan Markets in downtown Shanghai.
Copy market is not a farmers market.
Like in every other area of life as an expat, enjoy China but don’t turn your brain off.
Copy market serves a great purpose, but be smart about it.
Don’t go alone, and don’t treat it casually. Then once you’re done shopping, head to an artsy part of the city where you can get a handmade scarf and a delicious coffee and dream copy-dreams.
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