Traveling Around China

Buying a camera in Hong Kong – Don’t! (Part 2)

On Tuesday I compared the prices in Hong Kong and Guangzhou. The conclusion was that even though there are rumors that cameras are cheaper in Hong Kong, there’s no need to rush there to shop. In the comments Mike reminded us that there are cheap stores in Guangzhou too, but you just have to know what you’re buying and know about the different guarantees.

Today I’m going to tell you the first story of the camera shop that tried to trick me into buying something I didn’t want.


Scam number 1

It happened on the Peking road and you can see the shop in the picture above (from Google Maps). This is how it happened:

Me: I’m interested in buying a DSLR camera. Could you show me something cheap and good for beginners?

Salesman: Sure. Here’s the Canon Rebel XS (1000d).

Me: How much is it?

Salesman: That’s 3800HKD.

Me: In the other shop they said it’s about 3000HKD.

Salesman: Come sit here and take a look at the camera. I can give you a good deal.

Sitting with my Finnish friend in front of the salesman and trying the camera. Salesman doing some small talk.

Me in Finnish to my friend: I’m sure soon he’s saying how it’s a “special price for you my friend!”

Me in English to the salesman: I like it but it’s little bit over my budget.

Salesman: Don’t worry. I can give a special price for you my friend. And later on when you buy a new camera or your friend wants one, you can come back here.

Me: Okey, that’s good.

Salesman: Playing with his calculator. What about 3500HKD? It’s a very good price for a camera like this.

Me: I’m not so sure. But I could buy it right now for 3200HKD.

Salesman: No, that’s way too little. You see how good this camera is!

Me: I have a budget so there’s nothing I can do.

Salesman: Fine. I’ll ask me manager. Asking something from a other salesman in Cantonese. Okey, my manager said it’s okey.

Me: Good. Can I see the new camera?

Salesman: This is little bit older model so we have to get it from the storage. You pay first and then we go get the new camera for you.

Me: Okey. Here’s cash.

Salesman takes the cash, counts it and writes a receipt. We start waiting for the camera.

Salesman: While we are waiting I can show you a camera you should buy next time. It’s Fujifilm XXX (Can’t rememer the model) and you can see how much better it is compared the camera you are buying.

Salesman takes a picture with Canon and then with Fujifilm. The latter one looks much better but that’s because of the white balance setting in the Canon are the worst possible.

Me: Looking at the Canon. Where can I change the white balance?

Salesman: Takes the camera from my hands. I’ll show you. Oh, wait. I’m sorry the battery is dead.

Me: Oh, can you put a new battery?

Salesman: Sorry, that’s the only battery we have.

We continue waiting for the camera I bought. Me and my friend already understood that he want’s us to buy the Fujifilm camera that’s only slightly more expensive than the Canon, but perhaps in reality it’s not as good as the Canon. Salesman is trying all the tricks he knows to sell us something more expensive.

Salesman: You know, I’m already working over time and I have to go now. Here is my manager and he knows you are waiting for the camera and he will close the deal with you.

Salesman leaves and we still continue waiting for the camera.

Manager: I just got a call from the storage and the Canon Rebel XS is only in Japanese. Is this okey for you?

Me: What? Do I look like I understand Japanese?

Manager: It’s an older model so it’s only in Japanese. But we can give you the English manual.

Me: Are you kidding me?!

Manager: If you don’t want it you can buy something else or get your money back.

Me: You bet I’m getting my money back! Is this really the way you do business?!

I left the store with my money and kept cursing in Finnish all the way to the street.


What just happened

The salesmen in Hong Kong are clever. They know what to say to make you feel good and “become friends”. They know how to change the settings in the cameras in order to make you buy a more expensive camera. But in reality the more expensive one might not be better one.

At this point I thought that they really didn’t know that they don’t have the Canon in storage and had to come up with something so I would choose an other camera. In Guangzhou it’s normal that you pay first and then you get the product from the storage or warehouse. I thought that’s just normal.

I also thought that this particular store was just an isolated incident. I didn’t know that this is the way most of the small and cheap Camera stores in Hong Kong work.

Later this week I’ll tell you how naive I was and how I got fooled the second time. It’s even better!

Click here for part 3 and find out how the scam number 2 happened!


  • C

    bunch of F king pricks…

    I would have just said if you can’t show me the cannon camera here.. forget it. thanks i’m NOT buying at all.

    Sara Reply:

    That would have been the smart thing to do. But in Guangzhou I’m used to give the money first and only then get the product. That’s why I thought it’s ok, but that seems not to be the case in Hong Kong.

  • Dave

    I’d never hand over even a penny until the product was right in front of me. In Taiwan they get the laptop/camera out and show you and only then do you need to get the cash out.

    I was expecting the end of the story to be that they wouldn’t give you the cash back, you might have been lucky there, other shops might not have.

    Sara Reply:

    In Guangzhou especially at the wholesale markets it’s common to give the money first and then they get you the product from the storage. They don’t have all the items at the shop, only some models so you can see what they have.

    I have to say that I was lucky to get my money back. Perhaps it would be too big of a risk for the shop if police would be called to check the situation? Or can police be trusted in Hong Kong?

    thenakedlistener Reply:

    The Hong Kong Police Force is one of the world’s most trusted police forces in the world. Yes, they can be trusted.

    BdV Reply:

    That was 6 years ago. Not anymore, many of them come from mainland china. I know that shouldn’t mean anything bad, but still, things have changed a lot, and not for the better at all.

  • C

    can you please write about your food experience in HK?

    Sara Reply:

    Sure I can write about that! I’m going back to Hong Kong after a week or so and could get more photos then. Thank you C for giving me so many ideas what to write about!

  • tom

    yes i had a similar experience in hong kong. the salesperson used the “bait and switch” on me too. what i learned is that if the price is too low to be reasonable, then it’s probably a scam. it’s safer to buy it at a regular store

    Sara Reply:

    You are right Tom, it’s safer to buy at regular store you can trust. Before buying the camera I had heard so many people saying that cameras are cheap in Hong Kong so I just thought “wow, they really are cheap!”. In Guangzhou I would have been smarter.

  • Justin

    Good read, but what I am curious is what swearing in finnish sounds like lol.

    Sara Reply:

    Justin, I’m not sure if it would be a moral thing to do to teach you all how to swear in Finnish! This reminds me how my Chinese boyfriend learned to swear in Finnish. I was at the hospital at that time and sure sweared a lot because it was the worst thing that have happened to me. I really didn’t have to teach him! Now I regret it :)

  • Tiina

    Tää ei liity mitenkään sun viimeisen merkintään ja mä nauran tääl vielkin miten pieni paikka maailma on. Just luin sun blogin ja sitten menin fb:n… tota mä huomasin, että sä tunnet mun poikaystävän xD
    Tää kuulostaa niin oudolta ja samalla aikaa niin hassulta, mut en voinu olla kertomatta ku hoksasin tän XD

    Sara Reply:

    Hei Tiina!

    Maailma on todellakin pieni paikka :) Nyt alkoi kiinnostaa, etta kukahan sun poikaystava on! Voi olla, etta en tunne hanta kovin hyvin vaikka olisikin kaverilistallani Facebookissa. Anna joku vinkki tai sitten ota Facebookissa yhteytta!

    Tiina Reply:

    Mä laitan sulle fb: kautta viestii.

  • lory

    i really don’t understand the story derserved to commment on,but i know HongKong is a cool place to shop,yeah, it’s great

    Sara Reply:

    You didn’t like the story Lory?

    lory Reply:

    if it’s a real story,i love it. because all truth is great,but if it’s just a story,please forgive me, i feel boring

    Sara Reply:

    Sorry Lory if I didn’t make it clear enough for you. This is what really happened to me on 14th July 2011 in Hong Kong. You can see the camera shop and the location in the picture.

    lory Reply:

    ok,i trust you and now i believe you are a great you use MSN?

    Sara Reply:

    Thank you Lory. No, I don’t use MSN.

    Kitcrsn Reply:

    I concur. Hong Kong is indeed a great place to shop.

  • lory

    so can you give me your email?i love travelling ,it likes you ,i think,and now i am in DaLian,you know?now i enjoy the feeling of beach and sea ,i want to share with you some travel feeling and pics

    Sara Reply:

    Lory, you can find my email from the About page. Nice to hear that you enjoy the beach and the sea! I do think that if you want to share those feeling and photos, you should open your own blog! Would that be a good idea?

    lory Reply:

    but i have been in another blog that is famous in China and i am single-minded.i admire you that you have enough time to enjoy life and now i am learning to work,but i love travel forever

    thenakedlistener Reply:

    Forgive me for butting in, but there are supreme benefits for you if you do it in your own blog, as the rest of us would die to know your thoughts and feelings in your own space.

  • thenakedlistener

    OMG, you went to Peking Road in Tsimshatsui, of all places. Oh dear. Take it from a Hongkonger like me, you should have gone the bigger shopping malls and buy your camera from Fortress or Broadway. They couldn’t be bothered to cheat you.

    Don’t get me wrong: you have my sympathy. I’d just like to make one observation though (not actually about you as such, but taking your story here as a springboard): a lot of China-resident expats such as yourself are apt to take a blanket ‘Chinese’ view when they come to Hong Kong. It’s understandable and forgivable, since Hongkongers and Chinese are mostly alike (and even Hongkongers take this view). But Hong Kong (and Hongkongers) are nothing like the Chinese you know. HKers are not more or less crafty than mainlanders – they’re just different and ne’er the twain shall they meet. I personally have seen countless episodes of what you went through. But, honestly speaking, I don’t want to flog a dead horse, other than to say, Hong Kong is very, very good at spotting mainland Chinese ways in others (expats included) and seize the day, though often they don’t set out to do it originally.

    Just my twopence worth.

    thenakedlistener Reply:

    BTW, I just like to state that the ‘blanket view’ position above isn’t particularly popular with expats living in the PRC. But it IS something I notice most of the time and has good predictive value in my experience. Mileage may vary for others.

    Sara Reply:

    Thank you for joining the discussion! I actually did go to Fortress and Broadway but the prices were higher or the same than in Guangzhou so I didn’t see the point to buy from there.

    Would you like to open up the “blanket view” phrase to me? English isn’t my native language so I’m not that sure what it means.

    thenakedlistener Reply:

    re: Fortress/Broadway vs. Guangzhou
    Sorry, I didn’t realise these places were priced the same or higher than ‘regular’ shops in Guangzhou.

    re: blanket view
    Sorry, sometimes I forget my own rule of not using idioms/colloquialisms. (You can take your revenge on me with Suomi idioms…) Umm, how to say this? Blanket view = an all-inclusive / across-the-board / one-size-fits-all view. Americans used to (and may still) say “wet blanket view.”

  • Amy

    Hello Finnish girl.Hope you get your camera after these “interesting” experience.If you buy a camera in Beijing,the salesman might use the same trick,or even worse.Sometimes the salesman will tell you that cameras in the shop are expensive because of the high rent.They give you a name card said they have cheaper ones in other shop which has less good location.If you believe their words,you might buy a fake one with no cheap price.

    Sara Reply:

    Hi Amy. Yes, I bought the camera from Gome in the end. First I went there, choose the model and the color, paid and got my receipt. The next they I went back (they didn’t have it in the store), got my camera, tried it and they put the batter and memory card in. Even attached the strap!

    Good to know how it’s in Beijing! I think that because there are more tourists and foreigners there so they have more scams too. Like the tea scam.

  • Simo

    Haha, I had a experience just like this, except I was the accompanying friend and not the buyer and the product was a HTC phone. we ended up not buying and just walked out.

    I think only electronics worthwhile to purchase from hongkong are ones that are not available in the mainland, such as the amazon kindle and some blackberry models.

    clothing brands which are expensive back home and imported in mainland are usually much cheaper in hong kong. I think hong kong is really good if you want to buy real brand clothing, and I don’t mean the high end brands but just typical ones.

    When mainland chinese say hong kong is good for shopping they usually mean for luxury items & cosmetics, which both can have added 30% import tax on the price here in mainland.

    I purchased my previous camera (just a normal pocket one) in Beijing’s Zhongguancun which is also notorious for fakes. I paid about 40 % less than I would pay in Finland for the same camera, and I got a bag for it and and extra battery (ok, the extra battery is fake but it still works, it just has a shorter life lol). but the experience of purchasing in zhongguancun was quite nice, they offered tee while the sales person showed you all the functions of the camera without trying to up-sell another camera. you are not expected to give any money until your camera is in front of you in a box, then you pay and you can break the seal on the box and try it before you leave.

    Sara Reply:

    Simo, comforting to know that I’m not the only one! It’s really good to hear experiences like this so others can learn from our mistakes and can prepare well if they decide to buy something fake.

  • Marco

    Hi everyone. I’m a Brazilian guy who have been several times to HK and other cities in PRC (Shezen, Ghanzou, Shanghai, Harbin, Beijin, etc.). Its a cultural thing in these places. I also live in a tourist city in Brazil and unfortunantelly several small shops try to use some scams. To be on the safer side you shoud buy from regular main shops. Of corse small shops can be a good deal. I almost never bought from big stores in HK. I rather go to small ones and never got cheated because I do my homework and just buy what I do want to buy. I double check boxes, papers, overall apearance. I also know beforehand the average street prices. For example. Next time I come to HK, next September I plan to buy a Canon 7d + a first class zoom lenses. I know how much BH Photo charge for them in NYC, plus I do my research on intenet stores. I intend to buy them for some 20% to 5% less than in Amazon or BH Photo. If a get that price at a main store I don’t close the deal immediatelly. I try and browse at small shops with good items displayed. Then start deal with salesperson. I present myself as one who is not aware of the equipment and every single B.S.($#%##) he/she says I reply and give a byte of my knowledge. I set up a price target and try to lower it. Bargainig is a chinese art. I’m also aware that being a western I’ll get a higher price. Therefore if possible I ask some chinese or Hongkonger friend to do the business for me and I just stay around as a customer not involved in the deal.
    I speak very litle mandarim (not cantonese) and sometimes it helps.
    Said so I can say that fortunantelly I never got busted in my shopping ventures in HK. People are very kind and honest. You can ask someone to help you out counting money on the streets and nobody will robb you. You can leave your goods at table and come back and you’ll find them safe (unless, maybe its a last generation cell phone). You can carry and walk on streets all spruced up covered in gold and you still are safe even late at night. Its unfortunantelly very different from Brazil.
    I love HK and willing to get back again soon.
    Now I would like to know if someone could suggest a good and honest place to buy a Canon 7d + good lenses in HK for a good price or tell the current street price of it.
    Tks a lot.

    Sara Reply:

    Seems like you know what you are doing Marco! Your strategy to buy that camera sounds excellent and you are far better prepared than I was.

    I don’t know about Hong Kong, but I have forgot my bank card to the ATM twice in China and both times got it back. Or maybe I was just lucky?

  • Keith

    No offence, but this might actually only affect foreigners, in every countries.
    To be honest, I buy lots of electronic stuff, but they didn’t tend to scam me for a worse product. Maybe the sales wanted to gain more commission, and just try to scam by “Friendly” chats.
    I feel bad about your experience, since I am from Hong Kong. And at the same time I became more alert after reading your post.
    Thank you anyways. Good day.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    It might, but after my experience in Hong Kong as a foreigner, I just can’t recommend buying cameras from these stores. That’s also something that haven’t happened to me in Guangzhou when buying electronics.

  • Nir

    What’s the scam here exactly? you should really come prepared knowing which camera you want. No scam, just bargaining.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Sellers giving false information about the existence of the camera isn’t a scam? Changing camera’s white balance setting so it seems to be worse than it actually is in order to sell a cheaper camera for higher price, this isn’t a scam either?

  • john james

    it’s hard if you guys are tourists….First thing is don’t buy anything in Tsim Sha Tsui especially in that touristy area of Nathan road. Just go to a Broadway or Fortress store. You can always go to Wing Shing in Mong Kok. I see so many foreigners asking for “best price” when i walk around tsim sha tsui and i just shake my head.

  • Bogie

    Just AVOID setting foot in any electronic shop at Nathan Road, ESPECIALLY the one called PERFECT DIGITAL – it’s a tourist trap! That business is in existence for only one reason – TO RIP PEOPLE OFF. So avoid that camera shop and ALL NEARBY CAMERA SHOPS along Nathan Road for that matter, for your sake.

  • Kitcrsn

    Best to compare U.S. prices for that special camera before you shop in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a shoppers paradise, so, if you have the time, do your homework and compare prices. First time I visited Hong Kong was while on a 5 day R&R from Vietnam in October 1968. Picked up a genuine Rolex GMT Master from a certified Rolex dealer with all the paperwork for under $300.00 U.S. Today the same watch in the U.S. sells for $3,000, perhaps even higher.

  • Kitcrsn

    Thanks for posting this. Scamming is a part of life in Asian shopping cities such as Bangkok, Hong Kong. Dealers prey on tourists like wolves. Do a little homework before you go and you’ll get a great deal for that special something of interest.

  • pogi

    Ive been here before and its true! people in that store along with others are assholes! i asked for a series of lenses zigma, and they want me to pay first before they will get the lense, and when i pay, i wait 15 mins just to say they have better lenses..because they have no stock..thats the momment i get pissed off.. what i did is i stand up and i told them that Im about to kick their ass if they wont give the things that i asked, im 6 footer with bad behaviour on theyre fuckin scared!! i almost hit the guy on his they immideatly returned my money..its quite a scene tobe honest.. but they deserved it. im pissed of but when i saw their scared faces as i act like im gonna hammer them off.. thats hilarious..haha