Chongqing: an electronics supercity

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The central Chinese city of Chongqing, often referred to as “the new Shanghai” due to its rapid economic growth, is a hub for travelers hunting for bargains on laptops, mobile phones and cameras.

Cranes work incessantly along the Yangtze and Jialing rivers flowing through the center of Chongqing in central China. New concrete apartment blocks are rising in steady succession to provide housing for the constant flow of new arrivals moving here in search for work. Chongqing city has more than eight million inhabitants, while the province has a population of 32 million.

The growth is ongoing. According to the local customs administration, Chongqing’s total volume of foreign trade rose by 24 percent between 2012 and 2013. Many of the city’s residents are employed in the electronics industry. The city’s status as a tech hub is also noticeable to ordinary shoppers.

Gadgets for a steal

Saipo Electronic Market, a department store in the downtown commercial hub of Jiefangbei is known for offering the cheapest laptops in the country. Two floors are devoted to cameras and four to other electronics. Here visitors can haggle the price down and get some accessories thrown in.

“Our prices are lower than in department stores and other shops – maybe a thousand yuan [€120] less than the average price for a computer,” says Min Wong, supervisor at the Hewlett-Packard department, adding that one reason for Saipo’s low prices is the affordable rent for retail space.

Companies such as Apple, Lenovo and IBM fight for space on the shelves of Saipo – but what about the authenticity of US brands such as Apple, whose products are made in factories in Hong Kong?

“It’s still the same product,” says Wong. “The only difference is the warranty. If your iPad comes from Hong Kong, you won’t get a warranty and the price will be 200 yuan less.”

Customer Zhang Lijuan, shopping at the Nikon stand, says that retail prices for cameras in Chongqing are among the lowest in the country. “There are still few foreign tourists in Chongqing, but the Chinese come to Chongqing from all over the country to buy inexpensive cameras,” she says, adding that buying a camera here can save a shopper up to one thousand yuan.

Lower prices and designs copied from global megabrands are common. A brand such as Huawei, whose smartphone models bear more than a passing resemblance to Samsung’s Galaxy and Apple’s iPhone, may not be mentioned as often as the two established mobile giants, but the Chinese company is fighting for a market share. 

Paper over plastic

A stone’s throw from Saipo, in Suning Electronics Department Store, a group of Russian tourists touring China have found their way to the camera department. They had heard about Chongqing’s cheap electronics, but are still positively surprised.
 
“We’ve bought a couple of HP laptops and a Canon EOS 5D Mark III,” says Ivan Avdonin. “You can’t compare prices in Moscow with this; we just hope the quality lasts,” he says with a smile, adding that bargain hunters should prepare by carrying enough cash. “Nobody accepts cards.”
 
Chinese authorities have realized the city’s shopping potential and are investing in Chongqing as the new hub of southwest China – one of the county’s five national central cities, including Shanghai and Hong Kong. 
 
A new airport terminal is expected to be completed in 2015. Meanwhile the government is offering tax incentives and affordable commercial spaces to attract business from abroad.
 
Text and photo by Johan Augustin
 
A longer version of this article was published in Finnair's Blue Wings magazine (March 2014)
 
 

Published March 19, 2014

Category: Local features

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