Hong Kong is renowned as a place of neon-lit retail pilgrimage. This city is positively stuffed with swanky shopping malls and brand-name boutiques. All international brands worth their logos have stores here. These are supplemented by the city’s own retail trailblazers and an increasing number of creative local designers. Together they are Hong Kong’s shrines and temples to style and consumption.
Hong Kong has a rich and colourful array of Asian antiques on offer, and is one of the best markets in the world to shop for genuine Chinese antiques (tombware, Qing dynasty furniture, Ming dynasty pottery, etc). That said, forgeries and expert reproductions abound, and serious buyers should restrict themselves to reputable antique shops and auction houses. Ask for certification that proves authenticity; remember that there is no such thing as a bargain in a hunting ground this high profile. Most of the highest-quality pieces are sold through auction houses such as Christie’s, especially at its spring and autumn sales.
The epicentre of Hong Kong's street-level antiques retail scene has traditionally been Hollywood Rd, but spiralling rents in Central are pushing shops to the western end of this historic thoroughfare; most are now bunched around the area between Tai Ping Shan St and Upper Lascar Row (Cat St). The market is also moving increasingly upmarket as the value of Chinese antiques has skyrocketed beyond all imagination in the past six to eight years. A piece that would have been HK$10,000 is now HK$40,000 to HK$50,000; the midrange market is disappearing, as are many of the old stalwart shops along Hollywood Rd.
Cat Street Market hawks cheaper paraphernalia, including magazines, Chinese propaganda posters and badges from the Cultural Revolution. For old-style Chinese handicrafts, the main places to go are the large emporiums.
Whether it is true or not, Hong Kong is now being touted as one of the best places in the world to shop for contemporary art. An increasing number of art galleries in Hong Kong sell paintings, sculptures, ceramic works and installations – some very good – by local artists, as well as international names-in-the-making. The city’s swankiest commercial galleries are firmly entrenched in the area once occupied by antiques shops on and around Wyndham St and Hollywood Rd in Central.
Increasingly, Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon has become the go-to for electronics, including cameras. Service in the big electronics chain stores here is reassuring, the products legitimate and the prices competitive. Some low-level bargaining may be possible but don't expect giant discounts on the ticket prices. These days many shops that don't carry price tags are still legitimate, but do shop around to ensure the figures you're being quoted are fair. In Mong Kok, check out Showa Film & Camera for retro film cameras, lenses and first-class film developing services.
Designer Brands & Boutiques
The best places to find global designer brands and luxury stores are in malls such as IFC and the Landmark in Central, Pacific Place in Admiralty and Festival Walk in Kowloon Tong. Some of these shops such as Prada have outlets at Horizon Plaza in Ap Lei Chau selling off-season items at discounted prices.
For something unique, there are cool independents run by, or featuring, local designers in Central, Sheung Wan, Wan Chai and Tsim Sha Tsui. The pricing, while not as high as luxury retail, is certainly not cheap. Sometimes the quality doesn't live up to the price tag, but there are some lovely original pieces to be had. Central has some fabulous local designer boutiques; the area in Sheung Wan around Tai Ping Shan St is a little more affordable.
Street Markets & Mini-Malls
The best hunting grounds for low-cost garments are in Tsim Sha Tsui at the eastern end of Granville Rd, and Cheung Sha Wan Rd in Sham Shui Po. The street markets on Temple St in Yau Ma Tei and Tung Choi St in Mong Kok have the cheapest clothes. You may also try Li Yuen St East and Li Yuen St West, two narrow alleyways linking Des Voeux Rd Central with Queen’s Rd Central. They are a jumble of inexpensive clothing, handbags, backpacks and costume jewellery.
For a truly local shopping experience, the minimalls in Tsim Sha Tsui are teeming with all things young and trendy, both locally designed and imported from the mainland or Korea. Usually you can negotiate a lower price when you purchase more than one item. And if you have a good eye, you can end up looking chic for very little.
Gems & Jewellery
The Chinese attribute various magical qualities to jade, including the power to prevent ageing and accidents. The Jade Market in Yau Ma Tei is diverting, but unless you’re knowledgeable about jade, limit yourself to modest purchases. Some guided tours of Kowloon include a visit here, which can give a better insight than what you'll learn on your own.
Hong Kong also offers a great range of pearls – cultured and freshwater. Retail prices for other precious stones are only marginally lower than elsewhere. The more reputable jewellery-shop chains – and there are many in Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok catering to tourists from the mainland – will issue a certificate that states exactly what you are buying and guarantees that the shop will buy it back at a fair market price.
Handicrafts & Souvenirs
For old-school Chinese handicrafts and other goods such as hand-carved wooden pieces, ceramics, cloisonné, silk garments and place mats, head to the large Chinese emporiums, such as Chinese Arts & Crafts. Mountain Folkcraft in Central is also good for both Chinese and Southeast Asian handicrafts.
You’ll find a small range of similar items (but of a lesser quality) in the alleyways of Tsim Sha Tsui and stalls lining Cat Street in Sheung Wan, but remember to check prices at different vendors and bargain.
If you prefer something in a modern Chinese style, Shanghai Tang, the fashion boutique with branches all over town, has a range of cushions, tableware, photo frames and other home accessories – at luxury prices.
The homewares, fashion and accessories store G.O.D. is an excellent home-grown brand with a cheeky Hong Kong twist and several stores across the city.
Leather Goods & Luggage
All the brand names – such as Louis Vuitton, Samsonite and Rimowa – are sold at Hong Kong department stores, and you’ll also find some local vendors in the luggage business. The popularity of hiking and travel has triggered a proliferation of outdoor-products shops that carry high-quality backpacks. If you’re looking for a cheap casual bag or daypack, check out Li Yuen St East and Li Yuen St West in Central or Stanley Market.
Local Brands & Designers
Hong Kong doesn’t have a profusion of quirky, creative one-offs or unique vintage items as in London, New York or Copenhagen. (Have you seen the rent landlords charge here?) But the city has a small, passionate band of local designer boutiques offering value, character and style across a range of goods, especially in fashion, design and homewares. A small army of them have conveniently taken up residence inside the excellent PMQ complex on the borders of Sheung Wan and Central; don't miss it.
Soho, Wan Chai, Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui are other hotspots for these stores. Some, such as Homeless, carry a smattering of chic, design-oriented goods (local and imported) while others, such as homewares and fashion store G.O.D. and fashion boutiques Shanghai Tang and Initial, have in-house design teams.
Shops selling watches are ubiquitous in Hong Kong and you can find everything from a Rolex to Russian army timepieces and diving watches. Avoid the shops without price tags. City Chain is a reputable high-street store and the big department stores are other places worth trying, but do compare prices.
Sales assistants in department or chain stores rarely have any leeway to give discounts, but you can try bargaining in owner-operated stores and certainly in markets.
Some visitors believe that you can always get the goods for half of the price originally quoted. But if you can bargain something down that low, perhaps you shouldn’t be buying it from that shop anyway. Remember you may be getting that DSLR cheap but paying high mark-ups for the memory card, or worse, it may have missing components or no international warranty.
Don't be too intent on getting the best deals. Really, what’s HK$5 off a souvenir that’s being sold for HK$50? Probably not much to you, but it may mean a lot to the old lady selling it.
Hong Kong is not a nest of thieves just waiting to rip you off, but pitfalls can strike the uninitiated.
Whatever you’re in the market for, always check prices in a few shops before buying. The most common way for shopkeepers to cheat tourists is to simply overcharge. In some of the electronic stores in the tourist shopping district of Tsim Sha Tsui, many goods do not have price tags. Checking prices in several shops therefore becomes essential. Sometimes stores will quote a reasonable or even low price on a big-ticket item, only to get the money back by overcharging on accessories.
Spotting overcharging is the easy part, though. Sneakier (but rarer) tricks involve merchants removing vital components that should have been included for free (and demanding more money when you return to the shop to get them). Another tactic is to replace some of the good components with cheaper ones.
The Low-Down on High-Tech Shopping
Once upon a time Hong Kong's very favourable tax laws meant the city was a fertile ground for bargain-hunters looking to buy the latest electronics gear. But with the advent of the internet in recent years, there are fewer and fewer bargains to be had on high-end goods (and if you think you've found one, beware). Prices are certainly extremely competitive, though, and Hong Kong has a plethora of specialist shops and big chains in which you can confidently shop. In smaller stores, shopkeepers are generally honest but some have been known to sell display or secondhand items as new ones. For reputable electronics centres, head to Wan Chai or Kowloon; Sham Shui Po is the place to go for cut-price computer centres.
Need to Know
- Central: generally 10am to 8pm
- Causeway Bay: 11am to 9.30pm or 10pm
- Tsim Sha Tsui: 11am to 8pm
- Most shops open on Sunday
- Winter sales in January; summer sales in late June and early July
There’s no sales tax in Hong Kong so ignore the ‘Tax Free’ signs in some stores. However, you will pay duty on tobacco and alcohol. In general, almost everything is cheaper when you buy it outside duty-free shops.
Refunds & Exchanges
Most shops won’t give refunds, but they can be persuaded to exchange purchases if they haven’t been tampered with and you have a detailed receipt.
Service is attentive and credit cards are widely accepted.
Many shops – especially furniture and antiques stores – will package and post large items for you, but check whether you’ll have to clear the goods at the destination country. Smaller items can be shipped from the post office or try DHL (www.dhl.com.hk/en).
Warranties & Guarantees
Some imported goods have a Hong Kong–only guarantee. If it’s a well-known brand, you can sometimes return the warranty card to the Hong Kong importer to get one for your country. Grey-market items imported by somebody other than the official agent may have a guarantee that’s valid only in the country of manufacture, or none at all.