Updated November 2018:
Shopping Tours Shanghai is now owned by NZer MJ Bethell who has been living in China for the past 10 years. She used to lead tours back when I first met founder Suzy Fewtrell and bought the company from her.
I just met MJ for dinner while I was visiting Shanghai with China Travel Services and we talked through some exciting ideas to add a 2-day shopping tour when I bring a small group here in October 2019 which will probably start in Beijing to see the Great Wall, then Xi’an for the Terracotta Warriors, then a few days cruising on the mighty Yangtze River and ending with 3 days in Shanghai to hit the shops. (Contact me if you’d like more info when I have it!)
So here’s what to expect on a shopping tour in Shanghai:
My first trip to China was with Air New Zealand soon after they started flying direct to Shanghai from Auckland. A whistle stop five days to shop and shop and oh my goodness, shop!
So cutting straight to the chase, we booked a shopping tour with a kiwi woman named Suzy Fewtrell. She moved to Shanghai when Air NZ started flying here because her husband was a pilot. They loved it so much that he left the company to stay here and Suzy set up her business for western shoppers who want all the donkey work done for them.
And by that I mean someone who knows the best places to go and the best prices to expect for beautiful tailoring, silk pillows and duvets, hand made ceramics and if you come in November/December – a massive Christmas market.
But you will do a whole lot more than just shopping – you’ll learn some history as you drive around, see beautiful old buildings, eat dumplings and generally drink in the delights of Shanghai, home to 24 million people.
The full day tour kicks off about 8.30am with a pick up from your hotel. I thought it might possibly be a little too long and quite probably kill me. How wrong I was and even the token male in our group went berserk and could have gone longer!
With five different factories, shopping centres and shops, plus lunch and transport all included for about NZ$260 per person (1350CNY/US198), we trundled off first to the Fabric Market. Excitement was running high – a little Christmas Eve-ish we felt.
It was winter when we were there so the market was all about cashmere coats and suits. It was a veritable wonderland. MJ and her team of guides have relationships with select vendors that they have worked out excellent, pre-bartered prices with and have had a NZ tailor come and check out the quality of their work. I was a bit sceptical that the prices might include a kick-back for MJ so didn’t pay too much attention to her list of vendors at first and turned in circles like a music box ballerina and headed off in the direction of a stunning red cashmere number with a page from Vogue pinned to the front to show me how on trend it was for winter.
Thinking back now, the price wasn’t too bad (around NZ$160), but I couldn’t budge them on price so left it. In the end I found a lime green cashmere coat, fully lined and in a cape shape with buttons pulling a high neck together for about $120. I can’t wait for winter and it’s only barely summer! MJ’s pre-arranged prices are definitely better than we non-bartery-type shoppers can get and they are also on hand to help with any bargaining that you might want to try at other vendors. She also speaks the language which is helpful when trying to negotiate.
I bought two 100% silk ties, two scarves, three pairs of cuff links, a belt and that coat for less than $200. Stoked. Back to the bus we went and compared purchases. Two of our group had coats being made overnight that were duly delivered to the hotel at 8.30am the next day, all fitted and lined.
Next we went to a place that sells gorgeous ceramics – plates, bowls, vases – but I decided my luggage didn’t need the weight. We stopped for a delicious lunch so we could taste a bunch of different dishes, then off we set to the Silk Factory where the worms were being boiled and their silk cocoons unravelled by machines into fine spider-web like threads to be made into duvet and pillow fillers. Don’t judge me!
Along the chain I went and saw how they stretch the wet threads over a frame, then four ladies holding a corner each stretch at least 100 layers over a bed to make the duvets. I bought a king size duvet and two pillows which were vacuum packed for travelling for $200. These are some of the most popular items guests buy and often they are asked to send them overseas to those who wished they’d bought them on her tour.
Next stop was for antiques and collectibles. I was after a sculpture of a Chinese coin – which I eventually found in marble at the next stop. Christmas decorations were out in full force, homewares, fresh flowers and the most amazing fake flowers I’ve ever seen. I wanted it all! #ShowsRestraint
Finally it was the Pearl Market, which is a misnomer as it’s three floors of all kinds of jewellery, luggage, handbags and nick knacks. I spent the remainder of the contents of my wallet here on gifts galore – including some very cute chopsticks and my piece of art.
But one last story I must tell you before you stop reading and click onto another website (don’t do it!) is about the couple from Wellington who had built a new home and had a quote of $28,000 for curtains. They contacted Suzy and she sorted out which factories to take them to, so over they flew and got all their curtains made, lined and bought the tracks and tie-backs. And even including the 250kg of overweight luggage to bring it home rather than ship it, they got the whole lot for $6,000. YES they did.
So jump here to Shopping Tours Shanghai and check out the full day, half day, everything tour, curtain tour, personal tour and custom tailoring tour. It’s so worth it that I’m thinking about rounding up a few of my BFFs and going back.