So here I am, fed up with reading these posts over and over again, but rather than dismiss them as an inevitable consequence of naive tourism, why not stick a post here and highlight some of the places to look out for.
Okay, so this blog hasn't been up very long and my old blog didn't get thousands of hits from would-be electronics shoppers either, but at least if I put a post here then maybe it will spare some poor sucker from losing his/her money to these complete and utter parasites who blight the lower end of Tsim Sha Tsui (and many more places).
So here’s the deal. You want to buy a new [insert electronic gadget] and enter the wonderful neon-lit world of Tsim Sha Tsui because you don’t know any better. After all, there are all these camera shops around with their nice flashing neon and LED signs and their tax free promise and you’re entranced like a moth wandering into a naked flame.
You walk in, ask to see your gadget, you even get to play with it and decide it's for you. You say you want to buy it and hand over your credit card and then the guy announces that he shall get you a new one from the back of the shop/from their other premises. This gives them the delay they need to process your payment. The lackey arrives back with a new box, opens it and gives you a quick look and then sticks it in a bag and off you go. When you go and have a better look at your new toy…shock horror…they’ve given you one of the following:
1). A cheaper older model to the one you thought you were buying (you just paid next year’s new price for last year’s bit of old tat)
2). A model that looks like a Fuji but is actually made by someone called Fujijijilakawa.
3). A pretend camera made up from spare parts of many others (I once read about one guy who got his camera home to find out the LCD screen was actually a piece of cardboard!).
4). The gadget you actually wanted but because you failed to do your research, or you crumbled under the pressure, you paid twice as much as it costs in another shop you just passed.
Either way, whatever the outcome, you just got conned.
Outraged, you storm back to the shop and confront the sales guy. It’s unfortunate for you that he has about 7 other buddies in the shop who can do one of several things but essentially they all amount to you not getting a fair deal. They may intimidate you, possibly threaten or imply violence, they may deny all knowledge (after all it’s 7 against 1, right?) or they may claim that you only paid $3 for the camera but the battery cost you $6000.00. Either way your are pretty much screwed and there is NOTHING you can do to get redress. The police WILL NOT help you (they've either been paid off already, or no laws have been broken – caveat emptor - consumer protection in HK is pretty poor) and the Tourism Board will only listen to you if you are a Mainland tourist – they’re the ones that matter most because god-forbid any bad publicity back over the border that may affect their willingness to fork out for everything and anything sold in HK.
You can read some real life examples here, including the names of a couple of the shops:
Anyway, these type of shops have been running these scams for years. They take several forms but the end product is always the same. You get conned. The fact that these places seem to just keep going is an indication of their ability to fleece you. It’s possible that they do some legitimate business as well but when they see a tourist enter the shop they get all drooly and start rubbing their hands together. For them it's like taking candy from a baby.
So, what’s the best way to not get conned? The best way is to not buy your electronics from HK anymore – it seems as though the internet and competing worldwide markets mean that HK is no longer the electronics bargain heaven it used to be. But, if you really do want to buy stuff here are some general rules to obey to avoid these criminal con shops. Stick to well known brand stores such as Fortress and Broadway or head out into Mongkok and try Wing Shing or Man Shing (sorry, no website for that one) – I’ve bought stuff of all sorts at all of these shops and never had a problem and look as much the tourist as you do. Okay, they will see a non-Chinese face or hear a non-HK accent and you may not get the bargain you hoped for, but at least you won't be left with shoddy equipment and a big hole in your pocket (unless you bought your coat from an outlet store!). Unless you are a savvy resident, or are friends with a savvy resident, just save your money and buy elsewhere. Otherwise you can follow these very simple rules:
1. If the shop has bright neon signage at the front saying Canon or Sony etc, AVOID IT LIKE THE PLAGUE.
2. If the window display merchandise is wrapped in plastic – AVOID IT LIKE THE PLAGUE.
3. If the shop has no discernible name – AVOID IT LIKE THE PLAGUE.
4. If the shop has signs saying “TAX FREE” – AVOID IT LIKE THE PLAGUE. (For your information: there is NO SALES TAX in HK – don’t get fooled).
5. If the shop is located on or nearby to Nathan Road – AVOID IT LIKE THE PLAGUE.
6. If the shop assistants like to stand in the doorway smoking a cigarette or brandishing a blood stained meat cleaver – AVOID IT LIKE THE PLAGUE (either that or it’s just one of HK’s many less-than-hygienic butchers shops).
7. If you find a shop that exhibits any of the above but isn’t actually in Tsim Sha Tsui – AVOID IT LIKE THE PLAGUE anyway.
Okay, I may be tarring some innocent shops with the same brush with these rules but it really is better to be safe than sorry.
The only way these guys will disappear is if people stop going to them and the only way to do that is to spread the word that they are bad news. Anyway, I’ll leave you with some snaps of what to look out for. The first two are mine, the last one is courtesy of Google Streetview. This last one is actually in Yau Ma Tei but it’s a great example of what to avoid.
As an end note, it seems as though the Govt has started to listen to consumers a bit more and complaints are dealt with a bit more seriously. You can complain via the consumer council here. However, my advice you you is don't even bother to start the process of buying from these shops because giving them money is how they stay in business, complaints or no complaints. Idiots who think they can beat these guys by not falling for their scams may walk away with a legitimate piece of equipment or a reasonable price for it, but they are still keeping these places going by buying from them. It's best for everyone (you and future consumers) if you just give them a wide berth and put your money into companies that actually are worth supporting.