Though intimidating at first, you will soon see that shopping in Hong Kong is a breeze, even if you don’t speak Cantonese.
Most shopkeepers have at least a rudimentary knowledge of English, and in the language of business and selling, the Chinese will always find a way to communicate with you – especially if they are telling you the price.
In most retail stores, you will not be able to bargain a better price than what is listed on the price tag. Although loyal customers may get special discounts from some smaller retailers, expect to pay full price unless a sale is on. In street markets and stalls, most shopkeepers will start by quoting a “tourist price,” and haggling is both accepted and expected, especially if you are interested in buying more than one item.
Chinese department stores like Wing On often sell on the consignment system, meaning that the salesperson on the floor gives the shopper a ticket to bring to the cashier. After paying, the shopper takes the receipt back to the salesperson to collect the merchandise.
Look Up, Down and Around
Hong Kong’s high density means that space is scarce and precious. Don’t be surprised to find retailers located in the tiniest spaces in basements, many floors up a building or squeezed in a corner somewhere. Some smaller, local shops may be impossible to find unless you know where to look. Hong Kong’s streets do not run on a grid. Some streets and lanes are so short that they may not show up on a map. It is always best to have a phone number handy so you can call and ask for directions. Big shopping centers and malls are often strategically located next to an MTR station. Look out for signage and you should be able to find your way.
Don’t be surprised to find retailers located in the tiniest spaces in basements, many floors up a building or squeezed in a corner somewhere.
Parking and Delivery
Most large malls have hourly as well as monthly parking. Sometimes, especially during the holidays, there are special parking discounts for shoppers who make large purchases. In malls with grocery stores and markets, there are usually areas where you can drive close to the entrance to facilitate the pickup of your purchases. Check with the store if they have this facility and the service staff to help you before you buy. Otherwise ask for delivery, which can usually be arranged for free with a minimum purchase.
There is no sales tax in Hong Kong, which makes shopping fairly simple. You should only pay what is on the price tag.
Bring Your Own Bag
To promote a greener Hong Kong, a 50-cent plastic bag levy was introduced in shops in 2015. It is therefore advisable to bring your own bag.
How to Pay
Hong Kong’s contactless smart card, the Octopus, is nearly ubiquitous, although cash is still king in taxis and wet markets.
Small-scale, low-margin businesses with a primarily local customer base, like wet markets, street stalls and neighborhood pharmacies, still require cash. You’ll also need to carry cash for taxis as there is no universal electronic payment option for cabs.
Expect to pay in Hong Kong dollars for all your small purchases at the local stores and shops. Most retailers and stores will not accept foreign currency, with the exception of Chinese Renminbi (RMB) by some.
Many items that used to be purchased with cash can now be purchased using Hong Kong’s stored-value card, the Octopus. Supermarkets, convenience stores, coffee shops, vending machines and so on will accept payment by Octopus, and it is required for some parking garages. For extra convenience, sign up for the automatic add-value service, which connects your Octopus to your bank account. There is even an Octopus app for your phone or smartwatch, which is extremely convenient. See Live > Transportation > Public Transportation > Octopus Cards for more information about Octopus cards.
In 2018 the government’s Hong Kong Monetary Authority introduced the Faster Payment System (FPS), which allows cross-bank and e-wallet payments to be transferred by entering the mobile phone number or the email address of the recipient. You can register to receive and send funds via FPS through your bank. The funds are sent immediately and there is no service charge.
Many people use FPS in conjunction with PayMe, an app developed by HSBC. Similar to Zelle or Venmo in the US, it offers an easy user interface and funds are connected to the user’s credit card or bank account. Although the PayMe app was created by HSBC, it is open to anyone with a HKID and local credit card or bank account, not just HSBC customers.
Digital payments are most convenient for sending money to friends and small merchants. For example, many of the small independent vendors at crafts markets and holiday bazaars will accept PayMe or FPS transfers.
Credit Card / Checks / Autopay
Most large retailers will accept credit cards and digital wallets like Apple Pay. Some smaller retailers, and especially those selling electronics and cameras, will accept credit cards with a 3-5% surcharge to cover the bank fee that is charged to process these payments. Some shops will not accept Amex because of the high fee associated with the transaction.
Many bank-issued credit cards will have special promotions and purchase discounts. When you are making a purchase, it is always advisable to ask the staff if any special credit card promotions are on, although sometimes there will be promotion signs clearly displayed. Because of these special offers and promotions, Hong Kongers tend to carry around several cards issued by different banks.
Checks are not a commonly accepted form of payment in stores, but they are accepted for larger payments, including tuition, utilities and rent. Most banks can help you set up autopay transfers for significant recurring expenses.
Many bank-issued credit cards will have special promotions and purchase discounts. When you are making a purchase, it is always advisable to ask the staff if any special credit card promotions are on.