On a good day, shopping in Shanghai is a delightful and engaging experience, where one can revel in all of the city’s sensations, discover hidden gems and feel fully immersed in the flow of China’s thriving consumer culture.
On a bad day, however, lines and crowds are spirit crushing, bargains are fleeting and it takes far too long to find something simple. Either way, it’s an adventure. And as Shanghai’s consumer infrastructure matures, the good days are becoming far more frequent for expat shoppers. You can find anything in Shanghai, from Christian Dior on Nanjing Lu to Chairman Mao dolls at the Dongtai antique market.
The main shopping areas are in Puxi, although Pudong’s growing number of malls means it is possible to get all the retail therapy you need without crossing the river. Huaihai Lu and Nanjing Lu are the two principal shopping boulevards, both cross-cutting the city from east to west. They’re lined with the same high-end international shops to be found on Madison Avenue, interspersed with elegant hotels and fine dining. Shanghai has many immense malls. On a rainy day, you can find almost anything you need at any of the malls on both sides of the river. The IFC Mall and Super Brand Mall in Lujiazui, or Kerry Parkside conveniently located above the Huamu Lu Metro station, are excellent choices in Pudong, while the malls in Xujiahui, Plaza 66 on Nanjing Xi Lu, or the glitzy new IAPM mall on Huaihai Lu will have just about anything you might desire in Puxi.
The most convenient, visitor-friendly place to shop is Xintiandi – a neighbourhood with reconstructed traditional housing converted into upmarket shops, cafés and restaurants. Here you can stroll along pleasant streets seeking the perfect outfit for a sundowner on a Bund terrace later in the evening. For the highest concentration of international labels and upcoming local brands, proceed directly to the tree-lined streets of the former French Concession. Explore the shops on Nanchang Lu, Shaanxi Lu, Fuxing Lu and Julu Lu. Make a day of it. Enjoy some of Shanghai’s most elegant cafés, restaurants and bars in between forays into trendy boutiques.
Other than in well-established international chain stores, prices are generally cheaper than at home and almost always negotiable. Although credit cards are more widely accepted than in the past, China is still very much a cash society. There are plenty of markets selling fakes and knock-offs all over Shanghai. To the untrained eye, it’s hard to tell a fake Coach bag from the real thing. Generally, if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. The biggest problem Shanghai’s foreign shoppers come up against is sizing. There’s a distinct lack of larger sizes in Shanghai shops. There’s also no standardised sizing system, and you’re likely to find clothes using a mix of European, UK and US sizing, even in the same shop.
Bargaining is part of shopping on the streets and in the markets of Shanghai. Merchants expect it and it’s usually carried out in good humour. Market vendors are well aware of the money that expats spend in Shanghai and will usually begin with an outrageous price. Start very low from your end until you reach an agreement. Aim for about one-third of the original quote. They’re professionals and have seen all the tricks, including the walk-away, the ‘I’m not that interested’ and the plea of poverty. The best way to get the price you want is to first consider what the item is actually worth to you. Be firm and honest with the merchant, and keep your sense of humour. Knowing some Chinese will help you get a better price; carrying around large shopping bags from nearby stalls or stores will not. If you really want a local price for market goods and souvenirs, go to the market and make a list of the items you want then have a Chinese friend go to the market without you and purchase the goods.