On Location: Don't be fooled by the expensive cars outside China Mall. Leave the big bucks at home but bring the negotiation skills.
Bargains galore at China Mall - if you can haggle
AJMAN // From the outside, it is not much to look at. A 30-minute drive from Dubai, in Ajman's industrial Al Jaraf area, China Mall seems more like a factory warehouse than a shopping haven that draws thousands of customers.
Inside, the interiors are bare. Rice paper lanterns strung in the corridors between fluorescent tube lights serve as a gauche reminder of China in what is essentially an exhibition hall crammed with more than 1,000 stores.
And yet, the car park outside is lined with Audis, Porsches and BMWs. These shoppers do not come for the glamour; they come for the bargains.
Women grin from ear to ear as they push trolleys overflowing with clothes, purses and trinkets, because they know their negotiation skills have brought them items for Dh100 rather than the thousands of dirhams they might pay for a designer piece elsewhere. "I am looking for something close to a real brand," says Laila Ghamri, an Emirati from Ras al Khaimah, walking out of the store Jia Yi.
Ms Ghamri, a 21-year-old student at UAE University, needs accessories to complement her attire. But they do not always have to be designer items, she says.
"Anyway, how can someone make out how much it costs or who made it? As long as it looks good and I am getting it at a good price, I do not mind."
Leo, the Chinese shop owner, walks behind Ms Ghamri and her family, trying to impress them with his Arabic, which he picked up through interaction with customers during the past six months.
"I get a lot of Arab customers. Many come from other emirates too," he says. "I learnt it from them."
Ms Ghamri disagrees about the worth of a mirror-beaded shoulder bag, but Leo does not have time to brood over it - the next customer walks in enquiring about a wallet.
According to management at China Mall, they take precautions to prevent the sale of fake items.
"We instruct and guide tenants by providing them the knowledge of UAE culture and the law," a spokesman for the outlet explains.
According to their figures, there has been an increase in customers since they opened last October. The weekends draw the highest crowds, when between 15,000 and 20,000 people pass through the doors.
There is plenty for the hi-tech crowd here, too. Store owners say the "Made in China" phones and electronic tablets are the most popular sale items.
Abdul Rahman works for a Chinese man who opened his second electronic shop in the mall following the success of the first one in Dubai's Dragon Mart. "We sell 10 to 20 units a day," says Mr Rahman. But not before a full analysis on the quality by the buyer, he adds.
"I tell them, 'You bring it back if it does not work, I will replace it'. This is my personal guarantee to them. We rarely get complaints. Maybe one or two so far."
Moving from one end of the mall to the other in search of a sofa set, Noorallah Fakhri, 38, a resident from Sharjah, pauses to watch hula-hoopers dance to R&B tunes that blare in the background. With his children distracted by the performances, Mr Fakhri can get on with his shopping without being dragged to toy stores.
"I have come here for the first time," he says. "I was told we could get reasonably priced furniture here. Outlets elsewhere buy it from such markets and sell it at a higher price, so why not buy it from here?"
Hisham Mohammed, 44, has brought his sons to the mall to look for computer hardware. He believes there is no point splurging on European and American gadgets.
"For things like gifts and even electronics, Chinese products are quite reliable and innovative," says the Ajman resident. "These phones and laptops will be outdated within six to eights months anyway. So why not buy it cheap and then replace it?"
Customers such as Mr Mohammed have made China the largest exporter in the world. As he says: "There is a reason why China is expected to become the world's largest economy."