Shanghai has long been an oasis of international shopping, so it is no surprise that Western-style malls have been replacing traditional shop fronts, Chinese department stores, and alley markets across Shanghai. Some of the best buys, however, can be found in the tens of thousands of privately run shops that dot the city, from the unique one-offs to the fly-by-night outfits. Colorful open-air markets and street-side vendors also offer more traditional arts and crafts, collectibles, and clothing at low prices. If you're looking for souvenirs or Chinese treasures, check out the cost and selection at hotel shops, modern shopping malls, or the Friendship Store first; then see what's available in the streets and at markets. Most stores are open daily from about 10am to 10pm (especially in the summer). Weekends (especially Sun) are the most hectic time to shop.
Shanghai's Best Buys
Shanghai is no Hong Kong, but it has some of the best antiques shopping in mainland China. A red wax seal must be attached to any item created between 1795 and 1949 that is taken out of China; older items cannot be exported. Many hotel shops and modern department stores will ship purchases to your home, and the Friendship Store has an efficient shipping department. Furniture, old or new, in traditional Chinese styles can be purchased or custom-ordered at several antiques stores. Prices are high, but still lower than you'd pay at home; shipping, however, can add considerably to the bill.
Shanghai is also known for its selection and low prices in silk (both off the bolt and in finished garments). The Shanghainese people are connoisseurs of fashion and style, so shops selling fashionable clothing in cotton, wool, silk, and just about any imaginable material are a dime a dozen, and prices are low. Traditional clothing such as qipao (mandarin collar dresses) and mian ao (padded jackets sometimes referred to as Mao jackets or Zhongshan jackets) are once again fashionable purchases.
Jewelry can be a bargain, particularly jade, gold, silver, and freshwater pearls, but bargaining and a critical eye are required. Electronics, cameras, and other high-tech goods are not particularly good buys, but if you need anything replaced, you'll find a wide selection from which to choose.
Among arts and crafts, there are also especially good buys in ceramics, hand-stitched embroideries, teapots, painted fans, and chopsticks. These are often sold in markets and on the sidewalks by itinerant vendors. Collectibles include Mao buttons, posters of Old Shanghai (covering everything from cigarette advertisements to talcum powder), old Chinese coins, wood carvings, and screens -- all priced lowest at markets and stands. Other popular crafts made in Shanghai are handbags, carpets, lacquerware, painted snuff bottles, and peasant paintings. Prices vary considerably. The best rule is to find something you truly like, then consider how much it is worth to you.
Designer-label sportswear and stuffed toys are abundant in department stores and street markets alike. Another popular gift is a chop (also called a seal), which is a small, stone, custom-engraved stamp with your name (in English, Chinese, or both), used with an ink pad to print your "signature" on paper. Chops can be created overnight, the same day, or sometimes even while you wait. Prices depend on the stone you select and the skill of the engraver.
The Art of Bargaining
It helps to know the going prices for items in which you're interested. The Friendship Store is worth scoping out with prices in mind because it marks the high-end price for most items. Prices in hotel shops are usually your ceiling -- you should be able to beat that price elsewhere. The street markets usually have the lowest prices. There, for example, you can buy porcelain chopstick rests for ¥10, painted fans for ¥15, silk shirts at around ¥100, quilts at ¥150, and ecru tablecloths at ¥200.
Haggling is not done at government-run stores, most hotel stalls, and modern shops, but it is expected on the street and in small private stores. A good rule of thumb is to offer no more than a quarter of the quoted price and not to accept the first counteroffer. Try to reach a compromise (no more than half the quoted price). Walking away with a firm but polite "No" often brings about a more favorable price. Smiling through the entire exchange (whatever the outcome) helps as well, as does negotiating alone with the vendor who will never give you the best price if he/she stands to lose face in front of other prying eyes. Remember that locals are demon shoppers who scrutinize each potential purchase and exercise mountains of patience before making a buy.
A local saying goes, "Everything is fake, only the fake things are real." This is true of goods sold at many antiques markets, and especially the open-air markets that line the entrances to major tourist sites where, in general, you'll be charged extravagant prices for mass-produced kitsch of shoddy quality. Jade is particularly difficult to evaluate and prone to being fake, so buy only what you really like and don't pay much.
Shanghai's Top Shopping Areas
Shanghai's top street to shop has always been Nanjing Road/Nanjing Lu, enhanced recently by the creation of the Nanjing Lu Pedestrian Mall on Nanjing Dong Lu downtown, where the most modern and the most traditional modes of retailing commingle.
Even more popular among locals, however, is Huaihai Zhong Lu, the wide avenue south of Nanjing Lu and parallel to it. The Huaihai shopping area tends to run far west across the city, from the Huangpi Nan Lu Metro station to the Changshu Lu station. The modern shopping malls here have better prices than you'll find on Nanjing Lu, and there are plenty of boutiques featuring fashions and silks. Some of the most interesting shopping for fashion and accessories is concentrated in the Shaanx1i Lu/Maoming Lu/Changle Lu/Xinle Lu area, just off Huaihai Lu. In the southern part of the concession, Taikang Lu, home to a burgeoning number of art galleries and trendy clubs, has many fashionable boutiques selling everything from designer handbags to pricey silks.
Another popular shopping street is Hengshan Lu, which continues at the western end of Huaihai Lu and runs south to the Xujiahui intersection and subway stop, where one of the city's largest collections of shopping centers is located.
Shanghai's Old Town Bazaar is a fine place to shop for local arts and crafts and for antiques. In Pudong, the shopping is concentrated mostly east of the riverfront and south of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower in the malls anchored by the massive Nextage department store on Zhangyang Lu and the Super Brand Mall (Zhengda Guangchang) in Lujiazui, with the new IFC Mall (Guojin Zhongxin Shangchang) being the latest magnet for all luxury goods.
What to Know About knockoffs
Leading up to and during the World Expo in 2010, Shanghai authorities made a concerted effort to crack down on pirated and knockoff goods (everything from North Face jackets, Louis Vuitton handbags, Rolex watches, and so on, to pirated DVDs), though knockoff Western-branded merchandise can still be found in several different locales, including Qipu Lu Market in Hongkou and A.P. Plaza in the Science and Technology Museum subway station in Pudong. And of course, it can also be found from the hard-to-avoid vendors loitering around tourist-friendly areas, who will unerringly seek you out and thrust their crumpled laminated photos of fake goods at you, asking "Rolex? Rolex?" This guide doesn't recommend that you go anywhere with them, even if they can be very persuasive.
Know if you do, however, that the Customs services of many nations frown on the importation of knockoffs on trademarked goods. The U.S. Customs Service allows U.S. residents to return with one trademark-protected item of each type; that is, one counterfeit watch, one knockoff purse, one camera with a questionable trademark, and so on. For instance, you may not bring back a dozen "Polo" shirts as gifts for friends. Even if the brand name is legitimate, you are not a licensed importer. Copyrighted products like CD-ROMs and books must have been manufactured under the copyright owner's authorization; otherwise, tourists may not import even one of these items -- they are pirated. The U.S. Customs Service booklet Know Before You Go and the U.S. Customs website (www.cbp.gov) provide further guidelines.