I have shopped at some of the trendiest and most exclusive places on the planet, but without a doubt, Shanghai’s AP Plaza is the single wildest place I have ever spent a penny. They may not have invented the knockoff market, but damnit they have perfected it. Let me explain…
Every year I cover the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, it’s my job, so stop rolling your eyes. When I found out the show was in China, I sat down with my co-worker, and we began to plotting how many cities and sites around the country we could hit in our free time. Work would take us to Shanghai but we wanted to see The Great Wall, the Terra Cotta Warriors, the Forbidden City, all of the big tourist spots. We figured that we could fly to Beijing on our day off, or maybe even stay an extra day, to get in the sightseeing. We mapped out all kinds of elaborate scenarios, because if we were going that far, on somebody else dime, we needed to maximize the opportunity. It’s one of my pet peeves about business travel. No matter how short the trip, no matter what I have to do, I find a way to go exploring. In Berlin and Rome I walked the streets after midnight to take in those cities most famous locations. In Tokyo I dragged my jet lagged butt out of bed at 4 am to experience the magical Fish Market. In Israel, my wife and I went straight from the plane, after a full day in the air, hopped in a car and toured Jerusalem. Same kind of deal when we went to India. My rationale is that I never know when I will be back, so I go hard and worry about sleeping on the plane.
So we had a plan for China and we were hyped. Go to Beijing, see the Great Wall and still get to Shanghai in time to see the Angels strap on their wings for the fashion show. We thought we were all set, all locked and loaded, then a colleague walked in the office and changed the entire trajectory of our trip, with one simple phrase … AP PLAZA.
Located underground at the subway station behind the Science & Technology Museum, AP Plaza is a world so tantalizing to those of us who are consumers by nature, that you must see it, to believe it.
The “PLAZA” is Shanghai’s most famous “fake market”. Packed with hundreds of tiny little shops selling the knockoff version of every luxury good you have ever dreamed of. Shoes, clothes, electronics, toys, you name it, somebody is selling it.
But the number one reason people go to the AP PLAZA is for the handbags and luggage. Yes ladies, they sell the best knockoff handbags on the planet. It’s like the Crenshaw Swap Meet, full of hundreds of thousands of the best designer bags you have always dreamed about.
Now lots of blogs warn travelers about AP Plaza, that it’s a rip off or overwhelming. Let me say this, sitting in the Chanel store in Paris, as my wife sipped champagne and dropped a years worth of private school tuition on handbags, that’s scary. The AP Plaza is shopping heaven. The same bag that we paid $7000 dollars for in Paris is $200 dollars in Shanghai. Look I know its not real, but you don’t and the savings are. If you can’t see the common sense in saving $6800 bucks, then stop reading this article now. I know that in life, you get what you pay for, and the bag may fall apart in a year. But who cares, you just saved a mountain of money. This place is revenge for anyone who has ever agonized about an over priced piece of leather that basically just holds a ladies keys and wallet.
There is Chanel, Louis, Fendi, every brand imaginable. And these aren’t the cheap knockoffs you see being sold by a couple of dudes on a hastily set up table in downtown LA or NYC. These are the creme del la creme, the best replications mankind has to offer. Remember, China doesn’t give a rats ass about copyrights, so you get a product, in most cases, that is a dead ringer for the original, right down to the fake serial numbers.
So when we touched down in Shanghai, we were focused and quickly made our way to AP Plaza. We took a cab from our hotel in the trendy Pudong section to The Science & Tech Museum, but I highly suggest that you ride the subway. The second we attempted to get out of the cab, a block away, we were approached. A dude literally rolled up on us as soon as we put feet to pavement. He was pitching, a mile a minute. He wanted to make sure we got the absolute best deal possible inside the mall, at his shop, of course. He offered to show us how to get inside and he would take us directly to his place, so we could avoid all the annoying sales people (like him).
Now if you hate to haggle, this is the moment you realize you have landed in hell. Fortunately, I am the son of a man who lived to go to Tijuana just for the back and forth with the street vendors, so haggling is in my DNA. Quick side note… Every MBA program should force its students to spend a week selling handbags at AP Plaza to bewildered tourist from all corners of the world. Cause it ain’t easy and you really need to be clever.
Once you get inside and shake the guy who is still shadowing you from the cab stand, your mouth hits the floor. It is complete sensory overload. Millions of products, thousands of tiny stores and standing in front of each, are people desperate to sell you something you don’t need. From the moment you step in the door you are besieged by people yelling the craziest stuff. Now our traveling party consisted of a 6 foot black man, and a blonde white woman (my producer), with striking blue eyes. We tend to stick out a little bit in China. People were fascinated by my producers eyes, literally stopping in their tracks to stare in her face. As for me, at every turn all I heard were stupid cliches from bad 80’s movies. “Hey Soul Brother”, “Hey Black Man”, “Hey Afrique”, it’s like the melanin in my skin set off an alarm in the mall, and everybody came running to sell something to “The Black Guy.” It was also the beginning of a great adventure, that I can only describe in this way. If shopping were an olympic sport, this would be the marathon. Thankfully I was completely ready for this test of my manhood.
Here’s the thing, AP Plaza is a crazy place, and if you are not prepared, if your minds not right, it can be a nightmare. So here are a few things that will help you, not only survive AP Plaza, but walk out with some real steals.
Know Where To Go Cause AP Plaza Is Massive
AP Plaza is massive. Every aisle, and every stall basically looks the same. So you need to know where you are going. We were on a mission to get handbags and purses and got two great recommendations, both for the same place. Junny’s shop is world famous and the preferred spot for many of the flight attendants from the different airlines. Her prices are fair and they make crazy deals, but more importantly when you walk in the door and say you are headed to Junny’s, people back off. BTW once you get there, if you don’t see what you are looking for, ask to see the stuff in the back closet. Its a gold mine of higher quality bags.
Be Prepared to Walk Away
You can haggle and haggle, but at the end of the day, you have to be willing to walk away. Even if its something you love. Trust me it works. 9 times out of 10 when you get out the shop, they will chase you down to make the sale. Its a dog eat dog world the AP Plaza. As a general rule you should pay no more than half the initial price the vendor suggests. It can take a while to get to that price but you have to be willing to stand your ground. When foreigners hit the door, all the vendors see are big fat dollar signs, you gotta be ruthless, in the kindest way possible.
Stay Away From The Knockoff Electronics
Clothes, shoes, handbags, team jerseys, some jewelry, even luggage are fair game, but stay away from the electronics. Sure that half price laptop or that $25 dollar GoPro look like a steal but remember they are knockoffs. The parts are bootleg and you get exactly what you pay for. A friend grabbed a pair of Apple Airbuds for $15 dollars and he said they worked fine, for a day. The voltage on most products in the U.S. is 110V, in China its 220V, thats a bad match. So stay away from the electronics.
Make Friends With The Other Shoppers
We were in Junnie’s so long we became regulars, and thats a good thing. Watch other customers shop, notice how much they are willing to pay and what kind of things are buying. In Junnie’s we talked to a group of flight attendants from United Airlines, regulars in the store, who gave us great advice about the discount they were getting. I also watched a Belgian couple come in and hastily pay twice the price we did for a bag. When we finally left, the staff from Junnie’s walked me over to the best shop for buying kids close and got us a GREAT discount.
Get an Eye Exam, Cause You Can In AP Plaza
This blew my mind, while I was on a “break”, I wandered into the eyeglass store. What blew my mind was all the different types of shades but also the fact that you could walk in the back and get an eye exam. A legit one. This 22 year old, checked my eyes, and made me prescription, bi-focal readers, in 20 minutes. They literally cut the glass right next door. I was tripping, and grabbed 3 pairs of shades and two pairs of custom readers for $225. Oh and did I mention that the shades had readers on the bottom part of the lens. Come on now…
Wallets, Wallets, Wallets
The best bargain in any of the bag shops are the wallets. Most are less then $15, they look great and are the perfect gift for friends and family back home. Lets be honest, nobody is checking to see if that Louis wallet you just pulled out of your purse is authentic. Get the wallets, while you contemplate your other purchases.
Buy in Volume
If you really want deals, then volume counts. The more bags we bought the better the prices got. Its simple economics. The only issue getting all the stuff you buy back to the U.S., I scooped a new suitcase.
Take Breaks, The Shopping Is Intense
AP Plaza is overwhelming. After an hour or so you just get dizzy from all the people, products and negotiating. Take a break, get some fresh air, walk away for a minute and think through all the stuff you are about to purchase. Going to AP Plaza is a full on commitment, of time and energy. You have to pace yourself.
Other blogs hate on this place all the time but honestly, I would fly back to Shanghai just to do my Christmas shopping. AP Plaza is one of those experiences that makes travel great. It’s so far out of your norm that it makes you uncomfortable, yet it leaves you with a lifetime of great stories and memories.