China: If the clothes fit, don't buy them now

China's shiyizu (literally “the-trying-on-clothes-group”) find the fashion they like in the store and pay a fraction for it online.

A fashion-conscious Beijing shopper.

A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

BEIJING – What is a dedicated Chinese follower of fashion to do? Brand-name clothes are expensive in the stores. But how do you know whether that nifty little number that you have seen online will fit?

Simple, say a growing number of price-conscious shoppers here who visit stores such as Zara or H&M solely to try on everything that they like. They buy what they like best at half the price online.

There are enough of them to have been given their own name, shiyizu (literally “the trying-on-clothes-group”). They are mainly “stylish, trendy young people, especially girls,” says one of their number who asked not to be named.

Taobao, the most popular shopping website in China, is crammed with people selling brand-name fashion goods at knockdown prices. Some are simply fakes. Often, though, wholesalers will undercut their retail store clients by selling directly to consumers as well.

And sometimes a factory with a contract, say, to make 10,000 linen jackets for C&A will actually make 15,000, and (illegally) sell the 5,000 extra items cut-price online.

“I can save up to 70 percent of the cost of my clothes overall,” says my style-maven source, who spends a good deal of her spare time in fitting rooms or at her computer screen.

Don’t the shop assistants mind attending to “shoppers” like her who never actually buy anything? “I don’t think they care,” she says. “They do plenty of business anyway ... with middle-aged people who don’t know how to use Taobao.”

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