This post published first in November 2013 and was last updated in October 2016.
Shop where you used to shop
Globalization has made it easier to stay true to your style and loyal to your brands, even if you move half-way around the world. No matter if mainstream or higher end brands, almost all the big International clothing chains have stores in Beijing. You can find GAP, H&M, Zara, Vero Moda, Mango, Guess, Esprit, Uniqlo, Promod, Calvin Klein, and many more, in most big shopping malls all over the city. (To see if your favorite brand has a store in Beijing, check the store locator on their website.)
Flagship stores are often located on Wangfujing Street in the downtown area and in Sanlitun. But even the malls on the outskirts of Beijing often have a couple foreign brand stores. Department stores also usually carry many different brands.
Just a note of caution, prices of those foreign chain stores are often higher than in the US or Europe. This premium can be 15% all the way up to 50% or more over the price you would pay in the US.
Explore Chinese labels
Many people may think that Chinese labels are only offering cheap clothing for the masses. And you can find those cheap clothes in shops lining neighborhood streets, or sometimes sold right out on the street. But China also has its own designer labels.
I’m not quite the fashionista with a big budget (as you probably guessed from the listing of some stores above). But I did some research on Chinese designers. What I learned, and much more, is included in my new Beijing Shopping Guide.
For sports and the great outdoors
Chinese consumers seem very interested in the sport and outdoor segment. Besides the usual foreign sport brands, like Nike and Adidas, you find a great selection of sport clothes and shoes of Chinese brands, for example Li-Ning and 361°. The same holds true for outdoor clothing and accessories. Located next to a NorthFace store is often a store of the Chinese brand Toread. The quality between foreign and domestic sports and outdoor brands seem comparable, in my (subjective, non-expert) opinion.
Buying cheap clothes
Markets like the zoo market (read more about the zoo market and other markets), many small stores, as well as street markets sell clothing at bargain prices. Sometimes however you need to bargain hard to actually get the low price.
Quality and style vary, brand names are often fake, and larger sizes are not available. Some stores may not have a fitting room so you can’t always try on the clothes. But for a pair of jeans under 10 US dollars, that may be a risk worth taking.
Read more about where to buy things in Beijing.
Finding your size
International size charts are commonly used, so it is easy to find your size. Find as in Recognize. In international chains, actually finding the size that fits should not be a problem, even if you are not petite. However, sometimes there are not many items in larger sizes available.
Chinese and other Asian brands often do not have large sizes available. I’m not talking XXXL supersize but just an XL size, or long sizes for tall people. Even if clothing is labeled as L, it may be smaller or shorter than you expect. You really can’t rely on the size label info but need to try it on.
Where to bargain
In markets, haggling for the price is expected and often necessary. For example at the Silk Market, which is geared towards foreign tourists, prices are quite inflated. At the zoo clothing market haggling is often not possible. Even if you can negotiate, it will be not to the extend as at the Silk Market.
In stores, you can always ask if the clothing item you are interested in has a discount (zhè jiàn yīfu dǎ zhé ma? 这件衣服打折吗?). Sometimes there is room for negotiation. In bigger stores and department stores, those extra discounts are usually not available – but it never hurts to ask. You may be surprised.
Often stores may have a store sale going on or specific items marked for sale. A sign saying 打7 折 means 30% off, 8.5 折 means 15% off. Salespeople are quick to help with the math, if the discounted price is not already shown on the price tag.
Get used to salespeople following you around
In many stores the sales person will follow you around in the store, often standing right behind you. While that may feel like you are under suspicion of planning to steal something, they just want to be close by to help and to get any commission if you end up buying something.
Chinese don’t seem to be bothered by this practice, but many Westerners like a bit more personal space. You can either ignore the sales person or tell them you only want to look around but they will likely continue to follow you closely.
If you want to read more about Shopping in Beijing, check out my brand new Beijing Shopping Guide. The ebook is the ultimate guide to shopping in Beijing, with the latest insider information from foreigners living in Beijing.