The Consumer and Bargaining Culture in China

Jul 11, 2018 10:30:00 AM / by Trisha Sanchez

Trisha Sanchez

Trisha is an official CAPA blogger for summer 2018, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. An International Business major at Champlain College, she is studying abroad in Shanghai this semester.

In this week's post, Trisha writes about the consumer culture in China and explores the mall and fake markets where she also experiences the bargaining culture in Shanghai.


Something intriguing I’ve been observing since our arrival in Shanghai has been the wide spectrum of consumer culture in China. Upon my arrival, I was well aware of the traditional politics of the country’s communist state, but I had never seen it in practice. I was anticipating having to adjust to a strong contrast from the capitalist market I’d grown up with. However, this turned out to not exactly be the case.

At a Retail Mall

One visit to any mall here and you can see not only how many western brands have been integrated into the Chinese economy, but also just how heavily western marketing and capitalist ideals have begun to ingrain themselves within the Chinese culture. Walking through retail stores at the mall you’ll definitely find that familiar sense of attentiveness to the consumer, clean-cut displays, ostentatious sales discounts, and an assertive yet restrained desire for your business.

Advertising in China

Something else a few of us have found a bit interesting, and rather funny, is that there appears to be a certain model who resembles your textbook boy band member that appears on nearly everything around here. From billboard ads for shampoo, even to packages of cheese crackers, we’ve found ourselves utterly amused at how strongly sex appeal is pushed for in ads for the most mundane products. The male modeling industry in general seems to hold a noticeable majority when in comes to marketing merchandise in Shanghai.

Walking Through the Fake Market

On the flipside, as many capitalist-inspired malls as there are within Shanghai, there are about as many of what are called “free” and “fake” markets. One of the biggest, located right outside of the Science and Technology Museum metro station, is Xinyang Market. It’s quite the sharp contrast from the clean-cut retail outlets at the mall, small stores are huddled together with walls and walls of shoes, shirts, knick-knacks and tech gadgets piled one on top of the other.

Fake Market

This is definitely the place to come shop if you’re looking for a bit more of a culture shock, and maybe some knock-off swag to show your friends back home. (A good deal of us have purchased 2 or 3 pairs of Yeezys and Gucci flip-flops already!) It’s recommended that if you’re visiting one of these markets for the first time to not go alone, as you can quickly be overwhelmed by the aggressive sales techniques of some of the shopkeepers.

At a Store in the Fake Market

An important lesson both my friend and I learned the hard way is that unlike a regular retail outlet, where it’s perfectly fine to browse and ask questions about loads of products you may only have a fleeting interest in, the moment you show the slightest attention to an item at the fake market the shopkeeper will try whatever they can do to sell you the item before you walk out that store. Now if you’re searching for the truly bonafide haggling-at-a-market experience and trying to find some really inexpensive merch, then look no further. However, be warned! The longer you haggle for, the more likely the salesman is to walk after you and continue to negotiate after you’ve decided to leave the store. If you’re truly not willing to do business at a certain price, make it firm. (Coincidentally, this is also one of the best ways to haggle, as most shopkeepers would rather concede to your bargain than have you walk away empty handed!)

Thanks Trisha!

Trisha's journey continues every Tuesday so stay tuned.

Learn More about the CAPA Shanghai Program

Topics: Shanghai, China, Local Culture