Shopping in Taiwan: an Overview
Shopping in Taiwan: An Overview
In Taiwan, shopping is plentiful and varied. Whether you need to pick up a quick item at a convenient store, find a bargain at the night market, or just prefer window shopping and eating in a nice comfortable air conditioned mall, Taiwan has it all.
Department stores are prevalent in every city big and small. Most are 6-12 story buildings located in or near the city center. Many are stores that hail from Japan ie. Sogo or Mitsukoshi. Floors are designated according to merchandise and fashion. Lower floors carry cosmetics and high end international brands, while the upper floors are separated according to men’s, women’s, or local brands. The basements levels usually are food court areas and some stores even have supermarkets.
Even if you don't plan to buy anything, this is where shopping truly becomes an enjoyable leisure time activity and they are usually jam packed on the weekends and holidays. In the summer, many people come to the department stores just to cool off and escape the heat.
One unique feature of the Japanese department stores is the elevator girls (and sometimes young men) that will politely hold the door for you and help push the buttons for which floor you want to go to. They can also usually provide directions on where to visit for what you need.
Since the early 2000’s, malls have started popping up in Taiwan cities and city outskirts. The mall concept is much like the west. Instead of tall 12 story buildings in the downtown city center, malls are more expansive and provide much more square footage. Floors are designated by fashion and merchandise and there is always space set aside for food courts and restaurants. The big difference is that the mall will be filled with independent and chain stores and a few mid-sized department stores. There may be cinemas, a ferris wheel, or venues for music and performances. As with department stores, malls are great places to escape the heat or rain, window shop, eat, or catch a movie. They are convenient, one stop shopping locations for everyone.
Taiwan has no shortage of supermarkets and box stores. Carrefour is the major supermarket chain in Taiwan and can be found in every city. Carrefour carries everything from food and home goods to electronics and auto parts. Other supermarket chains are RT Mart and Geant. These supermarkets are well frequented by Taiwanese and are part of modern city life.
“Box Stores” have also made their way to Taiwan. IKEA has several locations in major cities. Costco can be found in major cities from north to south. BNQ has multiple stores in Taiwan for all home improvement needs. These stores give Taiwanese more options and choices for international products.
In all towns and cities across Taiwan there is bound to be an "Everything Store" conveniently located and open late into the night near where you live. These stores are the staple of local Taiwan shopping. When you need to run out and buy a screwdriver, a light bulb, some clothes hangers, dishes or any other small household items - this is the place to go.
As the name implies they sell "Everything" and are typically lower priced than many of the larger hyper-market stores. Some stores in this category may sell super cheap and inferior goods that do not last, so once you find a good one, stick with it. In some rural areas, you may even see an "everything store on wheels" where a little truck drives around to small towns offering brooms, pots, pans and other goods.
It’s safe to say that convenient stores are a part of most Taiwanese lives. In whatever city or town you live, there is most likely a 7-11, Family Mart, OK, or Hi-Life convenient store with walking distance. (or possible several)
Convenience stores offer the normal quick snacks, drinks, cigarettes, or items one may need at a moment’s notice. In addition, there are plenty of daily fresh sandwiches, rice rolls, lunch boxes, and even roasted sweet potatoes which are delivered throughout the day.
One important convenience of these stores is the services they offer. You can pay any type of bill including your cable tv, cell phone, utility, and even parking tickets. You can buy train or concert tickets, and even send a fax or pick up a package sent there for you.
These stores are utilized by most Taiwanese as they truly are convenient and part of life in the city.
Unlike many other countries where the big name stores have pushed the mom and pop stores out of business, many Taiwanese still operate store fronts out of their houses or small store fronts. They usually specialize in one specific area. You'll see small stores for temple supplies, dishes, water filters, plumbing parts, paint, and all kinds of other stuff. Of course these small stores offer personable service and knowledge that you just can't find anywhere else. They are usually quick to offer at least a small discount, but can't afford to go very low because they may not see that many customers in a day and may already be operating on a thin margin.
In larger cities, however, these stores are disappearing. Most are family businesses and sons and daughters are less willing to take them over. In addition, rents are rising, and box stores like BNQ can offer more products for consumers. Still, Taiwan is full of small businesses and they make a big, cold city feel a little warmer.
Travel in Asia and you will soon realize that Taiwanese night markets may be the best in the world. Not only are they busy, have fresh food, and sell lots of different products, but they are open just about every night! Even the smallest of towns can have a great night market.
Taiwan night markets all have great food. Visitors can walk the aisles and gander at all the food stands full of fresh cooked food. Some stands have an area to sit but many times you just take your food and walk and eat. Night markets are hygienic and must abide by local food and hygiene laws. In addition, these stalls are the livelihood and business for most of the owners.
Night markets are not only for food. They also sell a lot of clothing and accessories. On weekends, many Taiwanese youths enjoy hanging out in the markets, eating and buying inexpensive clothing, cell phone covers, and even shoes. There’s a lot to offer and many stands come and go so there may be something new week to week. Bargaining for these items is possible unless it’s clearly stated what the price is.
Night markets usually begin around 6:00 pm and can run until 12:00 or 2:00am.
During the mornings and afternoons, many neighborhoods have a morning or afternoon wet market. These markets aren’t as big as night markets, but they have stands and provide the freshest food you’ll find in the area. Fresh fish, pork, and chicken is available at most places. There is no shortage of fresh vegetables, fruits, and tofu which is sold at prices most likely cheaper than the super market.
Morning markets can begin as early as 5:00am and last until 11:00am. Afternoon markets start around 4:00pm and last until 7:00pm as everyone is returning home after work.
Bargaining still occurs in Taiwan but only in certain situations and at certain venues. You may be able to bargain at roadside stands and at certain stalls in the night market. Supermarkets and department stores are set priced establishments.
If you are purchasing larger items like a motorcycle, car, or furniture at a local store (not Ikea), then you may have a chance to negotiate a slightly lower price. As usual, the more you buy, the more chance you may have of striking a deal.
Bag or no bag?
Most stores in Taiwan do not provide bags after you buy a product. This is part of a “no bags” law that was established to reduce garbage quantities in the country.(And it worked) Some types of businesses such as bakeries, fruit stands, clothing stores, or wet markets still supply a bag.
However, if you shop at a supermarket, box store, or convenience store, bags are not provided unless you buy one. The price is usually 1 or 2 NT.
Taiwanese are used to not having a bag as they can be quite wasteful. It’s not uncommon to see people carrying their own bags when out shopping.
Expect to receive a receipt upon purchasing an item at most stores. These receipts can be collected and the numbers are part of a lottery held every two months. People collect these receipts and check the numbers when they are announced. There are varying amounts of cash prizes for matching numbers.
You most likely won’t get a receipt at cash businesses such as night markets, wet markets, or roadside stands.
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