There are some shopkeepers in Hong Kong who seem more interested in ripping off tourists than making an honest sale. Don't let them spoil your holiday - if you're thinking of buying electronic or A/V equipment in Hong Kong, take a few minutes to read these guidelines.
1. Know what you are going to buy
The more knowledgeable you are about what you plan to buy, the harder it will be for someone to fool you. So make sure you know the answers to at least:
You should be able to get the answers to all these questions with a few searches on the internet.
If you are buying something as a favour for a friend, make sure they give you written answers to all these questions before you leave home. It will help prevent problems like buying the wrong model or overpaying, that will could cause headaches when you return home.
2. Avoid the small shops, especially along Nathan Road and around Tsim Sha Tsui and Causeway Bay
When problems are reported, they almost always seem to happen in these small shops. Just avoid them, it's not worth the risk of shopping there.
The shops typically have windows full of the latest gear, often have “Tax Free” signs in the window, with a group of salesmen waiting inside.
Usually they won't have any prices displayed, and you'll rarely if ever see local customers in the shop. Two warning signs!
3. Buy from the major chains
In recent years the price gap between the major chains and the smaller shops has got a lot smaller. Plus there's the peace of mind of buying from the larger chains.
Fortress is one local chain with a good selection of products, and stores in all the major areas. Visit their website (click 'Eng' at tthe top of the page to change to the English-language version, then click 'Store Locator' at the bottom of the page) to find the store nearest to you, and also to search for products and prices.
If you can't bear the thought of buying without at least a little comparison shopping, head along to the third floor of Ocean Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui, or levels 7 and 8 of Times Square in Causeway Bay. Both have several of the major chains present, including Broadway (store addresses in English, but rest of site Chinese-only), Fortress, and Tai Lin (link takes you to English version of their website. It lists store addresses, but at time of writing it doesn't show any products or prices).
4. Buy from trusted specialist shops
We'll break rule #3, and admit that sometimes a smaller shop is the way to go. In some cases they do still offer better prices, and if you need more specialist equipment they are probably the only place you'll get it.
See our separate articles on buying specific products for recommended specialist shops.
5. Watch out for the common scams
If you've followed the above points, you shouldn't have any need for this section. Still, here's what to watch out for if you end up in the wrong sort of shop.
Most of the scams are some type of 'bait and switch': You start off talking about the model you are looking for (the one you researched in point #1), but then the salesman introduces a different model that is 'much, much better'. Except of course it isn't.
The Hong Kong Police website describes it as:
By far the most common complaints from visitors to Hong Kong concern deception during retail or other commercial transactions.
It is important that you know what you are buying before you enter into a transaction. The police can only investigate cases where criminal deception is suspected. In many cases, the victim may have obtained a "bad deal" - for instance, paying double the price as that offered by the shop next door - but such a transaction is not criminal unless the victim was given a false or misleading description of the item.
For instance, if you decide to buy a camera "model FX100" and negotiate a price of $1000 with the dealer, whereupon the deal is completed - it is not a deception if you later find out you could have bought the same model cheaper somewhere else. It is only a deception if you were told you were being sold model FX100 and later find out that it is in fact "model FX90".
So the attraction to the shopkeeper is obvious – fat profits and not having officially committed any criminal offence. Here are some of the warning signs to be on the lookout for:
“We use a different brand name here in Hong Kong”
This seems to happen most with the Fuji brand, where customers are shown products marked “Fujitac” or “Fujila”. The second names are manufacturers of digital cameras and camcorders, but are NOT related to the Japanese Fuji company.
As far as I know, all popular company brand names are the same in Hong Kong as overseas, so take this as a good reason to leave the shop immediately.
“That model is sold under a different model name in Hong Kong”
“That model is obsolete, and has been replaced by the newer XYZ model”
“That model is useless! Why don't you look at this brand, which is much better.”
In some cases these are true. Eg my current digital camera is sold as the Canon Ixus 850 IS here in Hong Kong, but in the US it sells as the Canon SD 800 IS Digital Elph. And new models are sometimes released in Hong Kong before Europe and America. But it could just as easily be an excuse to switch you to a model you don't know the real price of.
Your best defence is knowing what you want to buy, as described in point #1. As soon as you start looking at a different brand or model, you don't know whether it's features are what you need, or what is a fair price to pay. The salesperson has taken control.
If this happens, get up and leave. If you believe they may be telling the truth, and the new model they recommend may actually be better for you, make a note of it, but still get up and leave. Then get on to the internet to check reviews and prices.
Alternatively, go to another shop that will sell you the model you originally requested.
Don't be pushed into buying something you don't know about.
Unfortunately there is another, higher-pressure version of this technique.
It all starts off well, where you are shown the product you asked for, agree a price, and sign a credit card slip to make the purchase. But then “So sorry, we don't have stock here but I'll just send someone to get it”. And the pressure to switch begins. They can stretch the delay out to 20-, 40-, 60-minutes and more, all the time persuading you that a different model is a better deal, that they have it in the shop, and why don't you take it? Many people give in just to get out of the shop!
Once you have agreed on a price, ask if they have stock in the shop. If yes, ask to see it. If it is shrink wrapped they may not want to open it until you have signed the credit card slip, which is fair enough.
If they don't have it in stock, but say they can get it in a few minutes, that may still be true. Many shops have limited space and keep stock in a nearby location. So ask how long it will take to arrive, and if you're ok with the time, ask them to bring it. But DO NOT SIGN ANY CREDIT CARD SLIP OR HAND OVER ANY CASH UNTIL YOU SEE IT. If they insist you sign before bringing it, get up and start to leave. They'll either decide it's not worth losing the sale and give in, or you can soon find another shop.
If they start trying to sell you something else while you are waiting, politely tell them you are not interested, and that if they continue you will leave.
6. Contact the police if you have problems
If you've been taken in with a bait-and-switch scam, contact the police for help. Although it may not officially be a crime, as the police website says:
Police in Tsim Sha Tsui (the main tourist area) are also concerned about these cases, and may still be able to offer you assistance even if you are not sure about your case, so contact them if you are in any doubt. The telephone number for the Duty Officer of Tsim Sha Tsui Police Station is 2678 2887.
Give them a call. There have been regular cases where the buyer has returned to the shop along with a policeman and been given a refund. (Of course, keep all original packaging and paperwork if there's a chance you'll need to do this).
7. If you think you've been ripped off, report it
If you've been scammed and you're still in Hong Kong, call the police (see previous point), and lodge a complaint with the Hong Kong consumer council.
The shops that operate these scams do it to make money. They rely on tricking tourists, assuming that either the tourist will be too embarrassed to make a fuss, or the tourist will leave Hong Kong before finding out about the problem.
If you've experienced one of these scams, please report it. Help make it difficult enough for the shopkeepers that they decide there are easier ways to make money than ripping off visitors.
If you have any other advice for shoppers, please leave a comment below.