Ahh, yes. Now we are talking. You want to get a Hermes knock-off? You looking for a cheapo “designer” shoes? Need to buy a bunch of fabric for something and looking to save some dough?
Let us begin.
You do not want the palangke, or local wet market. That is where local people looking to save money on food, clothing, and odds-and-ends go to shop. There may be the odd knock-off store scattered here and there in palangkes around the country, but it’s not worth the time and effort to seek them out in the local markets.
No. What you want is Divisoria (and it’s environs), the area around Quiapo Church, or Greenhills Mall.
Divisoria is actually a mall, but all the malls around it and the streets between those malls, are the bargain hunter’s paradise. When I’m looking to score deals on Christmas decorations, local items, school supplies, fabric, or clothes, Div is where I head. Plan your trip before you go, because different areas of Divisoria specialize in different things, and the roads are a maze of one-ways. This is as easy as googling “Divisoria school supplies”, for instance. Go with a friend (partly for safety, though I have never felt scared there), and partly for fun. Wear closed-toed shoes, especially if you will be shopping outside. Wear cool clothing. Carry a purse that you feel you can keep a good hold on and only carry the bare essentials in it. Bring water and use the bathroom before you go! Establish a place for your driver to pick you up, and make it clear that if he doesn’t hear from you by a certain time, he should start looking for you at that spot, because cell reception can be spotty there sometimes. Like i said, it’s actually a cluster of malls and street shopping, so if you get too hot, pop inside for a while and enjoy some aircon. Just know that the prices get a little higher indoors.
The area around Quiapo where you want to go if you make your own jewelry and need supplies. It is also one of those places where people gasp and say, “YOU went there? It’s so dangerous!” I have been there several times in the day and once at night, and never had a problem. Just be wise. See the recommendations above for shopping at Divisoria, and plan to be there in the daytime.
Greenhills is the place to go for knock-offs. It’s almost always fairly crowded. Use the Divisoria recommendations and be realistic with your expectations. They are good knock-offs. Meaning the $12,000 leather Hermes bag is still made of sturdy leather in knock-off form. The lining fabric is usually cheap, and any hardware on the bag, including the zipper, is usually a very cheap metal. But the design is the same, and the leather or fabric is good. You’re not going to get a knock-off leather bag for $5. Maybe $20-40 if you get a good deal. If the design is new, it could still be over $100.
Now that we’re talking prices, let’s talk haggling. I have two favorite ways.
The first is a little diabolical and doesn’t necessarily build friendships among the vendors, but it tends to work well for my pocketbook. I try to find two vendors next to each other who are selling the same thing that I want. I ask one how much she is charging for it. I consider for a while. Then I happen to notice that the vendor next door is selling the same thing, and ask her how much she is selling for. If the first vendor has hiked her prices up because I’m a foreigner, then the other vendor sees it as her chance to get the sale and names a much lower price. I let the original vendor try to beat it, and if she won’t, I buy from the second vendor.
As I said, a little diabolical, but all is fair in love and shopping.
The other way I haggle is by not haggling. I hold the item, and ask how much it is. (Magkano ito?) When I get the answer, I continue to hold it and consider for a while. If they hiked the price up on me, then this gives them a chance for their conscience to kick in, and sometimes they will continue to name lower and lower prices until I hear something I like, and then I buy.
Always ask “Ano ba last price?” (What is the last price? You can even just ask in English.) This is a way to acknowledge that you know that they are starting high and you just want to cut to the chase and decide if the price is good for you. Some will stick to the initial price they named, but many times they will drop it by 10-40%.
Always ask what the price is if you need a receipt. This is especially handy if the booth is being staffed by a non-owner who is hoping to pocket the extra they would make by hiking the price on you. If they have to give you a receipt, the owner will know how much they charged anyway, so the usually drop it down to a real price.
Don’t just buy from the first booth. That same exact bag/wallet/pair of shoes that you love will be on sale at at least a dozen different booths. Get a price several places before you buy. (I once bought 5 yards of fabric at Divisoria for P40 a yard, only to turn around and see the price posted at a booth down the aisle at P30 a yard. D’oh! At Greenhills, I spent the time to price out a bag I wanted and got price quotes ranging from the equivalent of $40-90.)
Don’t be a jerk. The vendors need to make a profit. They have families to support. Many of them go home to tiny homes you wouldn’t deign to live in. So don’t get all caught up on the “real” price or the “lowest” price or trying to tell if they are taking advantage of you. Go into every transaction with an idea of the price you’d be willing to pay for that item. If they get close and won’t go lower, then make your call over whether you’re going to get it or not and move on. Don’t take it personally. Don’t make it personal. It’s just a thing.
Avoid all of these places for 2 weeks before Christmas and the start of school. They will be PACKED to BURSTING and you are more likely to pick-pocketed in a jostling crowd than you are on some random day in February.
Also, don’t forget that most malls have areas in them where you can get pearls, knock-offs, locally made furniture, etc. If there is no posted price, it means that the price is fluid. Deal with the exchange the same way you would if you were bargain shopping elsewhere, but remember when you are bargaining with a vendor at your local mall, they will see you around more often and remember your face. It’s worth while to build up a good relationship with one vendor. You can promise to bring visitors to see her first when they are looking to buy souvenirs, mention that you plan to buy a lot of what they are selling to send home as gifts, etc. They will want to keep a good relationship with you, and will give you good prices.