As a computer enthusiast one of the coolest things about living in China is the availability of cheap electronics. I quickly dived in and started buying USB gadgets, external hard-drives and everything I thought I needed. I soon got a nasty surprise when some of these products didn’t work as expected (or didn’t work at all). I discovered that buying electronics in China can be a minefield, but with a bit of knowledge you can save yourself a lot of trouble. Here are the 5 things you need to know when buying electronics in China.
1. Try thoroughly before you buy
Before I say anything else, do not hand over your cash before you have thoroughly tested the product, otherwise you WILL get a nasty surprise. Secondly, do not expect to get your money back if the item stops working, even if it’s just a few hours after purchase. The most you can hope for is an exchange or store credit. This is because there is nothing more precious in this world to a Chinese person than money, and they will go to any lengths to protect it.
In some cases, a product may come in sealed packaging and cannot be opened without you purchasing it first. Before you hand over any money, have a clear understanding with the shopkeeper that you will test it on the spot, and if it doesn’t work they must immediately replace it with one which does. With that said, lets now consider how to choose which shop to buy from…
2. You need to find the shop which specializes in the product you’re after
At electronics markets in China there are usually hundreds of shops beckoning for your business. When you walk into a random shop, they will ask you what you want and tell you that they have it even if they don’t. If you ask them how much it costs, the sales assistant will quickly make a call and give you a price. It’s not their warehouse they are calling (though this is what they’ll tell you), it’s another shop in the same market which DOES have the product. This means the price you pay will be higher as they’ll be taking an extra cut. It also means poorer service, because the product isn’t actually theirs.
When I was buying a new hard-drive, I walked around the market until I found a shop with stacks of notebook hard-drives. The sales assistant didn’t need to make any phone calls when I asked for a WD 1TB notebook hard drive; they opened a box and pulled one out to show me, clearly a specialist supplier. Not surprisingly, their price was 20% cheaper than quoted at other shops in the same market. In fact, the other shops in the market buy from this specialist supplier and simply just add their 20% margin to the price. As a rule of thumb, if the shopkeeper needs to make a phone call before telling you the price, you should walk away.
3. If the price of a branded product seems too good to be true, it’s FAKE
The next thing to be aware of is fakes. If a famous brand-named product is selling for a bargain price, it’s fake. International brands are actually more expensive in China than most other countries due to import taxes, and we know how much Chinese people love money. Could they really be giving the product away at such a cheap price? No way. They are selling you a fake and making a handsome profit.
Most of the time, they’ll admit the product is fake if you ask them directly, and then offer the real one at a significantly higher price. Some unscrupulous merchants will continue to insist that a product is real when it’s fake (especially products such as memory cards). This happened to a friend of mine, he thought he got a great deal on a 500GB external hard-drive, until he took it home and found that it couldn’t actually store more than 120GB. We complained to the management office, and an officer accompanied us to the store to resolve the dispute. Funnily, the officer hinted that we were to blame, and angrily said: “You should check what the real price is first! If it’s this cheap of course it’s fake!!.” This means that before you buy, it’s necessary to find out what the market price is for the real thing (all it takes is a Google search). If the price being offered is ridiculously cheap (e.g. over 50% cheaper than market price), the product is definitely fake and you’ll be held responsible for not knowing.
4. They will give you the “local price” only when you walk away
Many merchants assume that westerners are rich and will open with a high price. They will give you the “local price” only when you walk away. For touristy items, typically offer 25% of the asking price. So if they want to charge 25RMB for a USB gizmo, offer 5RMB. They’ll probably come down to 18RMB during negotiation and then 10RMB when you start to walk away. For more expensive items, it’s vital to do your research first and have a target price. If you want a price which is so cheap that they cannot make any money, you’ll be sold a fake or defect.
5. To get your money back, make a scene
If you require you money back, they will not just give it to you, even if the product is defective. You need to DEMAND it back and make a scene. Yell at them, scare away their other customers and threaten to stay there all day. This works because what Chinese shopkeepers care about, first and foremost, is money. Cash in not just king in China, it is also God. If you make them lose money by scaring away their customers, they’ll do anything they can just to make you go away; you’ll get your refund.
The way I have just described is not something I would personally recommend, but unfortunately it is the only way that seems to work. Unless you really need that money back, don’t cause trouble and just treat it as an expensive lesson.
Buying electronics in China can be challenging, but if you shop smartly it can be everything you dreamed it would be. Happy Shopping 🙂