Shopping3 Jun 2013
Shopping in Malaysia can be one of the best parts of your stay here; there’s literally everything you could want by way of consumer choice. Want high-end luxury goods? Check into the top name shops in any of the better malls for everything a Paris socialite could want.
Looking for cultural knick-knacks for gifts back home? Then hunt down the great crafts at the Kraft Komplex or Central Market—their offerings are excellent.
Amazing furniture, authentic Madras textiles from Little India, modern art of an international quality, electronics and every range of consumer goods makes Malaysia a shopper’s paradise.
Asia is the Olympics of haggling and you’d best be up for the challenge. The short and fast rule is that if it doesn’t have a price tag, it’s up for negotiation. If you’re non-Asian they know you’re a soft target and you’ll be expected to bargain them down.
Therefore it’s standard procedure to charge not just double but 250 per cent so that when you ask for half off they still pocket a nice sum on top of the normal price. While every situation is different and you need to gauge the sincerity level of who you’re dealing with, keep in mind that the busier and more touristy areas are more likely to adhere to this formula.
Having said that, haggling can be a lot of fun and in fact can give you a greater insight to the society you live in. With that in mind, here are a few tips to make you a more successful Asian bargainer. One of the best ways to get good deals is to be seen as something of a local, as someone who knows the value and the quality of the things he’s bargaining for.
And one of the best ways is to come back to the same place again and again, week after week. Get to know your sellers, walk away when the price isn’t coming down to your level and by all means act incredulous when they overcharge you.
“You want how much?” with a smile will get you the deal in the end of the day. Remember to stay polite, remember that it’s a bit of theatre, know the market of what you’re buying and when you agree on a price, stick to it; nothing is more unethical than driving the seller down and then, when he agrees and you agree, you walk away to “think about it”.
If you’re not serious tell him up front; “I just want to get a price from you now but when I come back I want the local price”. That’ll tell them they’re dealing with an insider. All the major credit cards are honoured here with Visa being dominant and Mastercard, American Express and Diner’s Club following.
For some purchases - antiques and other goods that you’ve negotiated—sellers may ask that you pay a 1-3 per cent charge for using your card.
Poppycock: go down to the cash machine and draw out the cash, it’s a one time charge on the ATM. Keep in mind that Malaysia does have chip-enabled devices so make sure you know your four digit pin code. This transaction is generally secure.
However, there have been rumours of scams where credit cards have been swiped by waiters, the usual “foreign objects in machines” that have cropped up over the years and of course the occasional illegal use of credit cards by hotels etc. Asia is, undeniably, one of the hotbeds of identity theft and credit card scams and one should always be cautious, especially in the heavier tourist belts of Bukit Bintang in KL and Jonker Street in Melaka.
But having said that, Malaysia is far more diligent than say Thailand for such scams and the credit card companies have hotlines that are fast and efficient. Report all suspicious activity, keep your street smarts but enjoy and have fun too.
Malaysia is mall country so it’s hard for department stores, effectively brand aggregators, to get a leg up. They do have good value though and can be the place that carries your brands, especially ones that don’t have the economy of scale to have their own shop in the malls.
Coming to Asia, you should be well briefed that Malaysians and expatriates love their malls. Sometimes busy and bustling to the point of irritation (Sungei Wang) or posh enough to make a Harrod’s shopper nod in approval (Pavilion KL, Starhill), malls and shopping centres are a part of what people in the tropics do, using the climate control of these spaces to entertain themselves, eat and yes shop ‘til they drop. Next to eating, shopping is the national pastime.
And with the incredible amount of malls just in KL alone, they’ve certainly got a lot to love. KL especially is going through a huge boost in its retail square footage as massive spaces have boosted the mall coverage almost 50 per cent in the last year; spaces that are stylish and offer a plethora of choices.
The new kids on the block are certainly upmarket in tempo and offers: Pavilion is the newest haunt of the top luxury brands with Hermes, Dunhill, Gucci and almost every other major label having an outlet here.
Located in the heart of the downtown it’s the buzz place of the moment. It’s new brethren—The Gardens and Cap Square—are also presenting similar brands and stylish digs for shoppers, The Gardens extending the selection at Mid Valley Megamall, one of the city’s stalwarts for selection and price.
But don’t count out luxury favourites Suria KLCC and Starhill Gallery: they have their loyal customers and reputations built up over a decade. These grand dames of style aren’t being pushed aside. Then there are the bargain malls, great places to hunt for deals.
Plaza Low Yat is a classic for electronics; five floors of mobile phones, computer gear and cameras. Sungei Wang, the oldest mall at 30 years, is terrific for odd fashion and great deals on anything and everything.
If you can stand the crowds and the orientation issues, it’s a treat. As mentioned before, Mid Valley Megamall is good for deals although more on the mid-level brands. It does house an FOS (Factory Outlet Store) that has some good bargain hunting. For real deals, try the Melium Outlet (MO) store where designer pieces not sold in the shops can be found.
Last but not least there are a number of good flea markets—the one at Amcorp Mall is good and the street selling at the Curve is a great way to spend the weekend—that for mall junkies just make for another reason to shop.
If you don’t like crowds, stay away from the malls on public holidays, because that’s when the whole nation congregates in the malls for a day out. Parents will bring their children for a run around, couples will come to court, school children to hang around aimlessly. Unless you like the crush, stay away.
When expatriates come to Malaysia they’ll be greeted with a plethora of world famous hypermarkets and supermarkets, ones stacked with a wide selection of goods and western delicacies and brands. They’re dotted across the city (though Tesco and Carrefour are out of the downtown) and have various facilities (handicap and child services). There’s also delivery services fast coming up; check websites for details.
Malaysia is famed for its abundant night markets selling fresh goods at great prices. Enjoy the authentic experience at a huge number of local markets. To start, try the Sunday market at Bangsar Baru, behind Bangsar Village.
Apart from the mounds of fresh fruit, vegetables and meat, one of the best things about night markets is the cuisine available. Get a bowl of assam laksa, a roll of popiah or some kuih. Market food vendors have usually been around forever, and inherited the recipes from their family, so this is one of the best places to experience real authentic Malaysian food.