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August 3, 2011

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Everyone likes a bargain

AS inflation bites and people watch their spending, second-hand stores are popular, for everything from cars to baby carriages. And of course, everyone likes a bargain. Victoria Fei goes shopping.

It's a cliche but true: One man's trash can be another man's treasure, and second-hand stores are doing a good business in Shanghai.

Why not earn cash for unneeded items? Why pay full price? For those who want to buy and sell used items, second-hand stores are the place to go, either bricks-and-mortar stores or those online. And recycling is a buzz word these days.

"There are many great reasons to buy second-hand items. They are cheaper and have a smaller impact on my wallet," says Yu Ting, a 23-year-old graduate who has just found her first job in Shanghai and is furnishing her apartment.

Yes, "cheap and convenient" are why many young people swarm after second-hand shopping.

"Since I cannot afford a brand-new bookcase, I buy a second-hand one. Searching for good second-hand items is interesting and you probably end up with something appealing and unexpected," Yu adds.

Besides a bookcase, Yu has also bought a well-designed chair, a big mirror and a European-style bed.

When everyone is talking about inflation and low-carbon living, buying second-hand stuff makes sense. Many Chinese, however, draw the line at second-hand clothes and prefer things that are brand new. Still, for most people these days, money isn't sloshing around.

Second-hand stores sell everything from clothing to furniture and appliances, antiques to books, old-time toys, retro bags to Gucci and LV purses.

But in the 1950s and 60s, the city only had a few such stores. The most famous was Huai Guo Jiu (literally Huaihai Road state-owned second-hand store). Established in 1954, it was a state-run swap shop at the intersection of Huahai Road and Chongqing Road S.

It sold old and used china and porcelain, clothes, watches, accessories, furniture, appliances, bicycles, just about everything, even pianos. Veteran clerks were expert at evaluation and offering a fair deal.

The state-owned store has disappeared in the market economy. Now the Huai Guo Jiu brand is privately owned and situated on Tiandong Road in Xuhui District. Since there's competition from mushrooming new second-hand stores, the old brand now focuses more on office furniture.

It's not fancy, retaining the feeling of the original.

Inside is a sea of furniture, some of it piled up.

Companies call when they want to sell used office furniture and the store sends out estimators, says Li Jing, assistant manager at Huai Guo Jiu. When the deal is made, porters move everything to a 2,000-square-meter warehouse on Shilong Road.

Scattered about are household furniture, appliances, artwork, some antiques and other items to appeal to individuals.

Li points to a couple of chairs that are around 100 years old. The price tag for the pair is 2,000 yuan (US$310), marked down from 4,000 yuan a month ago. Nearby is a redwood piano bench for 10,000 yuan.

Li says that monthly sales revenues are around 180,000 yuan, compared with the monthly income of 300,000 yuan more than 10 years ago when it was the only second-hand store in Shanghai.

He blames the decline to the fiercer competition in the industry as a result of the increasing competitor second-hand stores, pawn shops and the booming trade websites for used items.

"A mega city like Shanghai has a large floating population and there's a large market for old stuff," says Li.

"Usually local Shanghainese don't quite like used furniture, so buyers are mostly tenants who trade in and out with cheap prices for their rented house."

Besides old furniture, popular items also include antiques, curios. For example, an old-fashioned Seagull camera is priced at only 200 yuan. "If you really like it, you can have it at 180 yuan," says a middle-aged salesman, adding that "it's still functional."

Retro, nostalgic

Lined with small stores featuring different kinds of antique stuff, Dongtai Road is extremely popular among expats who are obsessed with everything Chinese and "old."

They are often greeted by such Chinglish as "Look, look, cheap, very cheap."

The chockablock stretch of antiques shops sells all sorts of curio (some fake). You can easily bump into a Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) vase, a Mao-era badge, an old Shanghai cosmetics ad, a 1930s film poster or a refined ceramic statue.

"The street is a treasure trove, you can easily spend one day wandering here. Bargaining is of course part of the fun, but the whole shopping experience itself is just amazing," says Marc Lu, 26, an artist and a frequent visitor whose recent purchase was a bluish ceramic sculpture.

"There's lot of Chinese culture and history in these 'old' stuff," Lu says. "And you can easily mix and match with your home, even if it's ultra-modern style."

Online shopping

While many people go to junk shops in person, classified online sites for second-hand furniture and other items are popular. Cheap items are a mouse-click away.

Focusing on customer-to-customer,, for example, sells almost all kinds of personal possessions. Shoppers can buy cameras, mobile phones, musical instruments, sporting equipment, clothing and cosmetics. Baby items and furniture are popular.

Used cars are also sold online.

"The growing popularity of online car sales is related to the weather," says Li Jia, marketing director of "Since it is summer, few buyers are willing to go out to check cars. They would rather see pictures and details online and made their decision." In May, second-hand car sales reached 1.3 billion yuan at

Medium-range and luxury vehicles attract the most attention. Baixing says that the average auto cost in May was 117,600 yuan. Li says it takes around 12 days to complete the purchase procedure.

New mothers do a lot of shopping online, buying and selling, Li says.

Liang Xinle, a mother of a six-year-old girl, recently sold her baby carriage online for 100 yuan. "I paid 600 yuan for it new," Liang says. "Since most people come from one-child families and use these items only once, it's a pity to throw them away."

Marketing manager Li advises sellers to write useful introductions and show details of the products through photos, to get the best price.

"Everyone wants a good bargain," Li says. "The craze for second-hand items is a good way to recycle and lead a sustainable life."


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