Features

Retail Roulette - Shopping in Hong Kong

30 Aug 2010

Shopping isn’t just good in Hongkong, it’s a city-wide obsession. The climate-control environments and luxury brands of the big malls like IFC, Pacific Place and Times Square are perennially popular, but there’s nothing that whips up Hongkongers into a retail frenzy than the scent of a bargain, and for bargains think factory outlets. It’s your wardrobe that is likely to benefit most, but also add in electronics, jewellery and cultural souvenirs.

Hong Kong

This new reputation as a bargain hunters’ dream is slowly gaining ground over Hongkong’s longstanding status for being a high-end fashion shopper’s paradise, according to master shopper Ellen McNally, author of Shopping in Hongkong. “Hongkong used to be the best place for a tailor-made suit, a cashmere sweater and factory outlets selling seconds and overruns of labelled clothing. That changed when the factories moved to mainland China. From then on, shopping was limited to the expensive and heavily advertised branded shops from Europe, Asia and Hongkong. Over the past couple of years though, the factory outlet has made a comeback.”

Blame the economy or Hongkong’s proximity to South China, whatever the reason, bargains can be found in locations as civilised as Citygate or Horizon Plaza, and as chaotic and crowded as you like on the streets of Wanchai, Mongkok, Causeway Bay and the markets of Central. Find some gems among the rough and you’ll reach shopper’s high that tops even the SAR’s tallest skyscrapers.

WANCHAI

Johnston Road

From the junction with Hennessy Road right up to and along Wan Chai Road, Johnston Road is generously sprinkled with overruns, samples and plain and simple bargains.

Hennessy Road

Try Ah Lai Fashion Center (No.36) for rock bottom prices, and nearby Wan Kee for classier, pricier choices, where there’s even a racquet stringer in the corner. Super Sample (No.43-45) has Sherpa brand gear out front (further in and you’ll find linen dresses, tops and jeans) and opposite, in a shop with no English name are, rucksacks, fleeces and jackets.

Wanchai

The rest offer variations on women’s and men’s casual fashion. Westwood is a popular chain, with polo and cotton work shirts for guys, casual weekend fashion and some great labels for kids. Sample King (No. 42E) is also full of great kid’s clothes. In & Out (No.139-141) is a shop you’ll see all over town, and always popular for its basics priced mostly under HK$100 (US$13).

Ella D (No.106) looks like a regular shop but the prices are insanely low. Gowns are in the back, from HK$600 (US$77.3), and in front dresses, tops, and shoes, all pretty and feminine, are great finds. Blue Place is another bargain store where men’s jackets go from HK$200 (US$25.77) up to HK$1500 (US$193.25) for their “intelligent” ski wear, plus shoes, necklaces, and women’s fashion.

CAUSEWAY BAY

Times Square

Times Square (www.timessquare.com.hk) on Matheson Street is ground zero for shopping, eating and browsing in Hongkong. Many international brands are represented here, and luxury grocery store City’super is the place to go if you want to pick up snacks and foodstuff imported from around the world.
But those in the know often head up to the 13th floor, where brands rotate to offer discounted merchandises at Bazaar.

Lee Garden Road

Enter Lee Garden Road from the traffic artery of Hennessy Road and you will come across familiar names such as Westwood and Maple. Further along, Lok Wah City (No. 11) has casual and outdoor wear.

Jardine’s Crescent and Jardine’s Bazaar

If you are not afraid of tussling with the crowd to search for bargains, squeeze between the stalls of Jardine’s Crescent, brushing past funky t-shirts, scarves, undies, shirts and more. While you may well spot something here, don’t miss out on the tiny stores that are almost hidden from sight behind the lines of stalls. Two of the most interesting are 80s plus, with a mind-altering display of tops, bags, dresses and more all from HK$40 and up.

Jardine’s Bazaar has a few outlet shops at street level anchored at the corner by a huge Giordano and following on with Sun & Moon (No.22) and nearby Update Fashion and In & Out.

Fashion Walk

Cross Yee Wo Street and explore Great George, Paterson, Houston, Cleveland and Kingston streets. Fashion Island (19 Great George Street) is an upscale mall but to get back to the bargains follow the Fashion Walk trail up Paterson, where a host of Japanese designers like Tsumori Chisato have their retail. Stroll back down Cleveland Street where the first floor of LCX mall is a den of discount outlets. Rabbit for leather bags from 70 percent off, Ztampz, Rosebullet, Bauhaus and more are all cut price and just waiting for someone to snap up the bargains.

AP LEI CHAU

Horizon Plaza

Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau

This Mecca of all things fashion, homewares and food is half an hour from Central by taxi. Take the lift to the 28th and top floor and work your way down. Over 150 shops mean that you could be some time and weekends can be very busy. Jonathon Glover of Pacific Home Foods runs the outlet Pacific Gourmet Wholesale Deli for imported premium steaks, oysters, cheeses, charcuterie and wines. “Friday, Saturday and Sunday are the busiest times at Horizon Plaza,” he says. “At the weekend there’s a real buzz in our shop. We give customers recipes, explain how to cook our products, we have wine tastings going on and give away free herbs and spices too. Weekdays are quieter of course but for the discerning shopper midweek is good for bargains as it’s possible to negotiate better prices.”

Highlights? Start with the Lane Crawford Warehouse on 25/F. Prices are often 50 percent or more off their men’s and women’s fashion, shoes, linens, homewares and accessories. Continue the fashion theme at MaxMara (27/F) for Juicy Couture and Stella McCartney, Bluebell Fashion Warehouse (24/F) for Paul Smith and Jimmy Choo, Joyce Boutique (21/F) and the casual jeans and separates of Replay (19/F). Bumps to Babes (21/F) is baby heaven.

Homeware at Horizon Plaza is second to none. Where else can you find stores like Tree (28/F), Inside (12/F), indigo experience living (6/F), Shambhala Furniture Warehouse (2/F) and Tequila Kola (1/F) all under one roof? Outdoor & Indoor (20/F) will deck out the decking, and there are also several antique shops. All will ship if you don’t live in Hongkong.

Pick up some snacks as you leave. Apart from Pacific Gourmet there’s Viva Italia, for more wines try Limestone Coast Wines on (12/F), drop into Babycakes (11/F) for a mini-cupcake induced sugar rush, or the café at Tree.

Sham Shui Po

Apliu Street

In contrast with the rest of Hongkong that is rapidly redeveloping, the slightly run-down neighbourhood of Sham Shui Po feels like another world. Ironically it is also frequented by local fashion designers who come here for the lineup of shops filled with haberdashery and textiles. If you have a creative cell in your body it’s like being let loose in a sweet shop.

Follow Apliu Street past the rows of electronics shops to the more major Nam Cheong, turn right and you’ll find a slew of stores selling trimmings of every colour and texture and trinkets like old Chinese coins, and in the shapes of coconuts and shells. Often the shops are wholesale only, but retail weighs in at around HK$2 (US$0.26) upwards per yard of trim and HK$1 (US$0.13) and up per three pieces of trinkets.

Walk further along Apliu or Yu Chau Street on the other side of Nam Cheong Street and you’ll find shops of swatches, with boards set outside the shops for buyers to browse, study and feel; plain to paisley, sequined to furred, lace to diamante, silk and cotton, even tweeds and plastics. Most are wholesale but occasionally you’ll find one with overruns who will sell to a passing consumer.

Semi-precious stones can be found on Ki Lung Street. Amethyst, turquoise, black onyx, they’re breathtakingly beautiful – and cheap, some shops offering up to 70 percent off even to retail – which breaks down into roughly HK$20-150 (US$2.58-US$19.32) and up for a full string.

To see the finished products hot off the cutting boards, Cheung Sha Wan Road has some manufacturers fashion outlets. Many sell only wholesale, but some are happy to sell the odd item. Saturday afternoon is when the area is in full force.

Yau Ma Tei

Jade Market

This covered, enclosed market is really a misnomer – jade in beads, bracelets and figurines are only some of the items strung up for sale. Various semi-precious stones hang alongside, as well as cheaper glass, and on tables lines of multicoloured dragons, smiling Buddhas, mahjong games, bowls and more are waiting for new homes.

When shopping here you need to haggle – and hard. Most store owners are friendly and many speak good English. Cheaper pendants can go down to at least HK$40 (US$5.15) or less, and wall hangings with jade patterns and tassels make great gifts, with medium sized ones for around HK$100 (US$12.88) each. Kids’ bracelets could be HK$20 (US$2.58) or less, particularly if you’re buying more than one. Many owners will accept payments by credit card.

Tsim Sha Tsui

Granville Road, Tsim Sha Tsui

Tsui Sha Tsui, or “TST” as many local English-speaking residents call it, needs little introduction to the regular Hongkong business traveller. While new malls iSquare and K11 have rejuvenated the area, some mourn the loss of the original standalone shops. Luckily plenty of outlet shops are still in business along Granville Road.

Notable stores here include Bess (No.24A), whose old-fashioned décor attracts buyers to browse its collection that is all about layers. Beautiful scarves are marked at HK$300, but there seems to be a permanent 20 percent off sale. Granville Identity (No.34-36) is a collection of mini stalls inside one big shop, with shoes, bags, umbrellas and skincare on sale.

Emoi (No.39A), the eco-friendly homeware shop with funky felt bags, books and even vases, oversize mugs and glasses is fun to browse.

Near the intersection with Chatham Road, you will find is a u-shaped lane called Granville Circuit, where a number of little shops sell some street-style pieces.  Back on Granville Road, Ground Work (No.73) has Fyasko t-shirts from the US, priced at around HK$340 (US$43.8).

Central

Although mostly renowned for upscale malls and luxury brands, Central also has plenty of hidden bargains if you know where to look. Try exploring above street level on Lan Kwai Fong, following the touts to various outlets or venturing up buildings along the Li Yuen Streets for little hidden gems.

Li Yuen Streets East and West

Li Yuen Street

It’s worth dipping off the parallel Queen’s Road Central and Des Voeux Road to check out these two small lanes. Start on Li Yuen Street East, where plenty of suitcase and bag shops hide behind the stalls, also outlet stores such as Maple. Worth targeting is Elegant Tang Dynasty for cheap souvenirs, and Smile for kids’ clothes. Li  Yuen Street West is all bags, chinoiserie, Cotton House and Uno Oun outlet stores. Remy is an entertaining dress store, and near Des Voeux is a fairy tale come true gown stall for little girls.

Pedder Building

Shanghai Tang, which has taken up the basement and ground floor of one of Hongkong’s most historical buildings, has become the city’s most iconic fashion and homeware brands, with its signature scent of ginger flower wafting out of its store on Pedder Street. But it is upstairs of the building where the fun really starts. Little shops selling cashmere and pashminas, ball gowns and cocktail dresses, shoes and bags, even second-hand items, art and jewelery can be found from the first to 6th floor.

Lan Kwai Fong

Not just for big nights out, Lan Kwai Fong has several great boutiques hiding on the upper floors of buildings. Molly Li (7A&B Ho Lee Commercial Building, 38-44 D’Aguilar Street) is just one of the many wedding dress shops, and here you can try on and buy or rent wedding and evening gowns (package is HK$8,888 for four dresses). Move on to 1 Lan Kwai Fong and several fashion boutiques include chew (2/F), where new and second-hand fashion, accessories and shoes are by designers like Miu Miu, Christian Dior and Alex McQueen. On the 20th, b-Dazzled, for fantasy accessories, is by appointment only (Tel 2868 9861). For something a little different pop into the Hongkong 7s Merchandise Store (1/F, 7 Lan Kwai Fong) or Best Books (2/F 28 Wellington Street). Wo On Lane is a warren of tiny boutiques, best among them is Ozzie Cozzie (5/F, 1-3 Wo On Lane) for Australian bikinis. On the corner of Wellington and D’Aguilar Streets, Chic Corner has Dress Up Holic (1/F) for sophisticated pieces, and Bod Bra (3/F) has posture-enhancening bras and flattering bikinis. Further up Wellington towards Wyndham, you’ll find Wacoal underwear (1/F, 12 Wellington Street), and Aubade for 60 percent off at Pearl Lingerie (Ivy House). Don’t miss walking up Stanley Street for several clothing boutiques among the photo shops.

Vintage

Second-hand stores have garnered a cult following in Hongkong in recent years, and some of them are doing brisk business. Select 18, by Thomas Lee at 18 Bridges Street beside Soho spans vintage clothes, homewares, accessories and all sorts of other paraphernalia in a beautifully random shop. There is also Vintage HK on Hollywood and Peel Street, and the jumble sale-resembling Me and Gee (9 Li Yuen Street West) in the Lanes.

Sheung Wan

Cat Street

For antiques of differing qualities, Cat Street Market is the place to go, a stone’s throw away from the Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road. Old Chinese posters, necklaces, masks, Buddha heads, ceramics, door knockers – there’s little you can’t find here, but make sure you use your sharpened haggling skills. 16 Tung Street is always a good bet for a great gift of a mahjong set, old figurine or Chinese travelling mirror. At the end of the street, Bill Arts Co is stuffed with knick-knacks, and around the corner going up the hill antiques spill out of Luk Kee.

Lantau

Citygate

As you’re arriving, or leaving Hongkong, make time to pop into this fantastic outlet mall (www.citygateoutlets.com.hk). Bringing together street and high-end designer labels, all at discounts that can even top 70 percent off, it’s worth the effort. If you have luggage, there are lockers on levels 2 and 3 for only HK$10 (US$1.29) and up for two hours.

Popular labels such as Alfred Dunhill, Polo Ralph Lauren, Diane von Furstenberg and Vivienne Tam are all there to offer incredible savings. Add in accessories such as Coach, Kate Spade and Samsonite, and kids shops like Chickeeduck and Kingkow. Club 21 has DKNY and CK, and I.T. has an eclectic collection of brands ranging from Frapebois to Cacharel and there is even A Bathing Ape Private Store inside. For sports brands there are Nike, Adidas, Quicksilver and Levis, just to name a few. For many shoppers, the only concern when coming here is how much they
can carry.

Additional reporting by Reggie Ho


Tech Buys

Hongkong is famous for good deals in electronic products and cameras. It’s no wonder that as soon as they arrive, visitors make a beeline for Tsim Sha Tsui, where shops with display windows full of mobile phones, computers and cameras abound. But buyers beware!

tech buys in hong kong

“Avoid those shops like the plague. In those tourist traps, prices can be 30 to 100 percent higher,” warns local shopper Linus Wong.

The safest bet is to visit chain stores, such as Citicall, Broadway or Fortress. They are everywhere, the largest ones being situated in Central, Causeway Bay (Time Square), Taikoo Shing and even Tsim Sha Tsui or Mong Kok. Prices are fixed, the staff are more patient and they let you browse and ask questions.

Mong Kok is where the locals go for bargains, but venturing into one of the world’s most densely populated areas teeming with shoppers takes some mental preparation. Do your homework and research all the relevant websites so you know what you want and where you can find it. Local geeks even check out the websites of individual shops in different malls and call them to make sure that the objects of desire are in stock. In peak hours and on weekends, you will see a sea of heads when you emerge from the Mongkok MTR’s Exit E2, but you shouldn’t be deterred. Turn right and right again to make your way to Sim City (47-51, Shantung Street, upstairs) or neaby Mongkok Computer Centre (8 Nelson Street) for the confluences of electronics shops. Be prepared to have to elbow your way around. The staff may seem impatient but do not take it personally. They are simply trying to get the transactions done as fast as they can since a high sale volume is key to surviving Mong Kok’s exorbitant rents.

“Name your brand and model number. If the sales staff snap ‘how many’, it’s not a ploy they use to make you small. It really happens that mainland Chinese tourists buy half a dozen of top-line phones or cameras to take home,” Wong says.

You can bargain a little, probably two to three percent, or try to get some freebies, such as a cheaper MP3 player or a laptop bag, he advises.

“After you made sure the price includes everything it should, plonk down your credit card, get the product and check right away if it includes everything, including the warranty papers, and make your way out as fast as you can. It’ll be a relief to be outside!” Wong says.

Computer fans will also enjoy Hongkong Computer Centre, right on the left of Wan Chai MTR Exit A4. The three-storey shop has all the gadgets and accessories one can imagine, from mobile phones and their colourful plastic covers and leather iPad cases to speakers and amplifiers, system accessories, DVDs and CDs, computer games, books and headphones. All these are in addition to big-ticket items such as cameras, computers and their parts, second-hand items and service to assemble new computers according to customers’ specifications. It’s easy to get in - but difficult to get out. Keep to the perimeter of the floor and you will eventually find the staircase going down.

“Here the watchword is not speed but patience. Half the fun is wandering around, comparing prices before you buy. A bit of bargaining is possible, but within reasonable limits,” advises Wong.

Also in Wan Chai is the unoriginally named mall 298 (298 Hennessy Road), a short walking distance from the MTR station. This hub is also three stories high, but a little smaller and much more crammed. The environment seems more downmarket but prices are similar.  Two other well-known computer malls worth visiting are Golden Computer Centre and Golden Computer Arcade, housed in the same building in Sham Shui Po. Opening hours vary from shop to shop but generally fall between noon and 9pm. These two malls seem a little out of the way compared to their Wan Chai counterparts but from Sham Shui Po MTR Exit D2 it’s only about 10 minutes walk away. – Andrea Zavadszky

Tip Off Intelligence

As a city built on commerce Hongkong goes out of its way to make shopping easy for you. But there are still a few things worth noting to ensure a successful conquest.

Shopping tips

As with other Asian destinations, haggling is essential when shopping at street markets in Hongkong. At malls or shops the margin for bargaining is limited, and at factory outlets the prices are very much fixed. Exchanging goods is difficult in Hongkong, even at more upscale shops, so make sure that you have checked the condition of the merchandise before you pay.

Cash or card?

Credit cards are widely accepted in Hongkong and even by some vendors at the Jade Market. But as one would expect, most street markets will only accept cash. Smaller shops may only accept credit cards when your purchase exceeds a certain amount, usually HK$100 (US$13). It is wise to have some cash on you, but try to avoid HK$1,000 notes as small shops shun them.

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