Shopping in India: where to shop and what to buy?

Shopping is one of the most exciting and learning experiences in India. Although I’m a girl I have to confess I don’t like shopping. It’s a torture for me to spend the whole day trying out and looking for different stuff that matches three most important criteria for a girl: it looks great, it’s perfectly fit and it’s affordable. You don’t need to bother about those in India. As local people say: “Sab kuch milega” that means “you can find anything”. It’s totally true!

India will spoil you with choices! Because of the variety of clothes, there will be many dress options that will look great on you. Clothes will be differently shaped, colorful and formal, western and traditional, classy and casual. Price will not be a criterion anymore. You will be able to shop as low as 1-3 USD in local markets after an intense bargaining session up till thousands of dollars if you visit posh designer boutiques. The fitting will not be an issue anymore if you buy clothes in showrooms or malls. The majority of them has a tailor who will adjust clothes according to your needs.

Let’s go a bit into details because Shopping in India has many types and tips.

Online shopping sites in India

E-commerce is growing at a fantastic speed in India. It’s a great way to escape the heat, monsoons and of course long queues. In India, there are basically three big e-commerce players (a.k.a. monsters): Flipkart, Snapdeal and Amazon. Amazon used to be relatively small on Indian market three years back. Currently, it overcame Snapdeal in size. The three platforms mentioned above will satisfy your needs in 99% of the cases. If you are looking for fashion items and accessories, there are special platforms Myntra and Jabong.  I found as well a great list of 24 e-commerce sites in India that will suit many purposes. For the avid shoppers interested in the latest trends and social aspect of shopping, check out an app ROPOSO. It partners with major networks of sellers and makes shopping a social experience.

*Update summer 2016: Myntra has acquired Jabong. They both belong to Flipkart as of now.

Renting out

clothes rentalIndia is a culturally rich country offering you many interesting events and functions. You might want to join a Diwali party or maybe experience Indian wedding. There is a dress code for each traditional function. If men can be fine with a classic black suit in most of the cases with women it’s a bit more complicated. In most of the cases, women have to wear traditional attire. There are so many varieties of it that it takes a while to remember the names.

When I arrived in India for the first time, my flatmates helped me to choose traditional pants and two Kurtis: one for official purpose and one for evening parties. I totally liked them! When I have received an invitation for the wedding same friends told I need an Anarkali suit (a long dress with leggings) because I can’t attend the wedding in official Kurti. Afterward, we went to another festival before Diwali. This time, I needed lehenga (long embroidered skirt) and top. The bottom line: if you plan to attend different events, you might require specific suits which are very costly if you buy a qualitative set.

Whether you plan to attend a traditional event or a cocktail party, most probably you will require a dress once and not on a regular basis. In this case, I recommend to rent it out. There are many companies who entered this area recently in India. For instance, FlyrobeSwishlist.  You may get deals there starting with 700 INR (~10.50 USD). It will save your time running from one shop to another looking for a suitable dress. It will also save you from spending a chunk of money on something that is going to stay on your shelf most of the time.

Local markets

Shop in the paradise. Credit: Klaus Nahr
Shop in Goa. Credit: Klaus Nahr

In my opinion, Indian Local Market is one of the top practical schools in “Sales and customer care”. If you want to learn selling strategies, few visits to local markets and stores might replace some sales books on your shelves. This was one of the main challenges for me when I came to India for the first time.

Every time I’ve seen the Indians bargaining in the market, I also wanted to learn that skill. It’s the whole art when you see an Indian during a sale in the local shops. They have a story behind every product and it’s catchy.

I was living with Indian girls for few months. Shopping there was one of the common activities. Every 2nd weekend we were out to the local market to see a “fresh collection”.  I didn’t need to buy stuff, though I was just following everything my friends were doing: every single gesture, the phrases they were using, when it’s time to leave or when they gave the seller the last chance. At the same time, I was observing which story sellers used to invent, how they negotiate the price and don’t let the buyer come below the market standard.  My first attempts were obviously looking quite clumsy. Nevertheless, I had the goal to negotiate everything and everywhere till I manage to strike the deal like local people do.

Surprisingly, these skills get honed mostly in the markets and local shops. It works differently in the corporate sector. Whenever I was buying/ordering something by phone even from the top companies I always had a feeling of a script. Those people sounded professional, but they were following a certain plan.  I couldn’t feel those strong emotions and ambiance I generally feel in local shops or markets, that’s why it’s one of the top experiences I recommend.

By the way, I put up the whole list of cool local markets around India specializing in different areas starting with jewelry to flowers.

Showrooms and malls

escalator-283448_1920 (1)Malls are one of the top “go-to places” for Indians during weekends. Either it’s a cinema evening or a dine-out with a family, malls are very overcrowded on weekends. If you would like to buy something from a mall, I would advise paying a visit during work days.

The great advantage about shopping in the showrooms is tailor service. If you buy anything from a showroom, whether it’s a small shop or a mall you can alter it according to your size on the spot for free. Most of the shops hire a tailor in the team who will do all necessary alterations within an hour or two.

Consider that all malls have a security who check people and their bags on the entrance. According to the rules, alcohol is not allowed (we checked).

Shopping from manufacturers

Most probably, if you visit Rajasthan (Indian State in the west) you will not be able to escape shopping. There are some interesting offers of a factory tour or a fabric painting workshop. Some people from the streets can give you directions depending on the city. This will be indeed one of the most memorable experiences.

When I entered an eight-story textile shop in Jodhpur it felt like I was in the labyrinth of fabrics. On the 1st floor, there were all silk clothes, from both sides of the stairs the light scarfs were hanging, on the top Pashmina blankets. Everything was so colorful, bright and all the rooms were full of materials or ready made items. Somewhere they were nicely arranged, somewhere messed on the floors. It looked like a scene from a movie. The salesman of the shop offers the information on any piece of a material and shares the latest trends and techniques.

There is a rule of “no obligation”. That’s how the first pitch starts in most of the shops: “You don’t have to buy anything, just look around and listen to the story”. Sellers can also serve you with water, cold drink or tea in the store. Shopping experience can last longer than you think. You just need to take a place on a bench and enjoy it. It will be also good if you try to control how much you are spending.

General shopping tips in India

In this section, I will list some points to consider while shopping in India. They might save you additional time, money or even nerves.

  • Be careful with very attractive deals! Shopping in India is cheaper than in European or North American countries, it’s a fact. Nevertheless, make a small research about average prices for things you intend to buy. You can’t find real gold in India for the price of a plastic jewelry. If you buy stones – check up the quality. Ideally, ask for certifications. Indians are very good in selling. It’s quite hard to understand if a shop is trustworthy.
  • Don’t look excited. Excitement is a wrong emotion for India. It can result in overpricing and frustration later on. The more neutral or even suspicious you look, the better deals you will strike. Consider also competitors of the seller. You can as well inform him that you are considering other sellers. This will help you drop the price further down.
  • Revise suggestions from the drivers! If you hire a taxi/rickshaw/car to take you around the city, the driver will most probably take you to several shops. Since there are plenty of shopping spots in any city, prepare approximate list what you would like to buy. If you don’t have the plan, the driver might take you to one of the random shops that pay him commissions.
  • Accept home delivery only from big reputable shops. There will be many shops offering to deliver your purchase to your home in India or directly abroad. Unless it’s a famous shop with a long reputation track, you can easily get scammed.
  • Don’t convert currencies. Try not to compare your country reality with an Indian one. When you are in India, think and buy in Rupees, not in USD, EUR, GBP or other currencies. If the price difference doesn’t matter for you, you can save it and buy food for homeless or people in need. You will see plenty of them.
  • Don’t feel ashamed to bargain. As a rule, the sellers put higher prices, because they expect everyone to bargain. Also, most of the sellers are mediators – they don’t produce things. They buy from other people and resell. Whatever profit the seller makes – it’s not shared with the suppliers. Secondly, trade is one of the very important verticals in India. People who work in this area, know their business and trust me, they will not sell you anything below the margin they’ve planned.
  • Come by the end of the day to the local markets. The later you come – the better deals you get. Consider though the closing hours. As a rule, sellers don’t like to carry goods with them, thus they will be happy to negotiate with you to get rid of stock.
  • Pashmina shopping. Since you will get trapped into touristy shops anyway, here are at least three ways how to filter their “stories”:
  1. Pashmina is expensive. There is NO pure pashmina for 100, 500 or even 2000 INR (~30 USD). Good quality ones bought from wholesalers (not retailers) start from 5000 INR (~80 USD).
  2. Pure pashmina is very thin and light. Even if it’s a blanket it can become so thin that it can go through your ring. This is one of the ways to test this material.
  3. Reputable sellers might burn a small slice of fabric. It should smell like a burned hair.

What to buy in India – Souvenirs

What to bring from India as a gift

What can you bring home as a gift from India?  There are many cool things to buy in India that can remind you of this country and culture long after you leave. In this section, I will share some popular ideas of gifts.

Textiles. India shares 63% of global textile and garment market. There are many manufacturers who produce only for export. If you get time to visit one of the manufacturer shops, you will get great prices and varieties of goods: curtains, blankets, bedsheets, scarves – just think of an option. You can as well purchase these items from local shop or market, but retailers add their margin. If you buy shawls or scarves, double check materials. I strongly recommend buying from manufacturer shops for quality assurance. I’ve shared in previous section above some tips how to test pashmina.

Spices. If you love spices, a great packed spice set can come as a handy souvenir in your kitchen. Though you can buy spices in any grocery shop, I strongly recommend Khari Baori market as a largest wholesale spice market in Asia. It is located in Delhi, Chandni Chowk market.

Tea. There are many tea plantations in India. There is a high chance that on the bottom of your tea box is written made in India, China or Sri Lanka. If you are travelling to North East or Kerala that are especially famous for it, take some packs of whole leaf tea.

Ayurveda. In big cities of India, you will find plenty of Ayurveda pharmacies and shops around. You will find everything there starting from shampoos to healthy food. One of the biggest chains is Patanjali. I also like and use products of Dabur.  There are famous herbal cosmetic brands as Biotique (I recommend for mixed skin), Himalaya (recommend Neem Jel for problematic / oily skin), Lotus, Khadi ( I love their natural soaps). Disclaimer: there are many other famous Indian herbal & ayurvedic brands. I’ve named ones I use and I’m happy with their quality.

Jewelry. India is one of the biggest exporters of precious stones. In addition to it, there are many varieties of artificial jewelry: bangles, necklaces, sets, earrings  are just few options.

Traditional clothes or shoes. There are so many varieties of traditional clothes in India, especially for women. Saree is one of the popular choices among foreigners. If you are looking for practicality, meaning you would like to wear these clothes back home, I would suggest looking into kurti options (many of them you can wear as a dress in the West).  If you visit Rajasthan, consider taking a pair of local joota ( traditional embroidered shoes).

Arts and crafts. You will find many artisans and craftsmen almost in any local market. They will be selling anything from paintings to handmade furniture & accessories.

Incense. India is a land of incense. You will find a huge variety of attars ( natural perfumes made from herbs or barks), essential oils, incentive sticks that burn everywhere and cost extremely cheap.

Traditional sweets. There are so many varieties of Indian sweets and yet their concept differs a lot from European ones. Indian sweets are mainly made of dairy products, flour, semolina, honey, fruits and nuts.

I hope this post gave you some useful insights into shopping in India.  If you have questions or you would like to share your tips, drop me a message! I will be happy to hear from you 😉

19 thoughts on “Shopping in India: where to shop and what to buy?”

  1. Shopping in India is fun! I always try to bring a half-empty suitcase so I can fill it up with clothes, shoes and other things I might find along the way. Good tip about the prices of Pashmina. I’d also add to be careful when buying silver as most of the “silver” I’ve purchased in India has turned out to be mixed with something else.

  2. I love your what to buy list!! Whenever I travel I love bringing back things that are unique to where I am visiting and not easy to find back home. You seem to be the same in that sense! Also, you tips are on point and I love your suggestion of buying food for people who might not be able to afford to.

  3. I am a girl and also do not like shopping (though I am totally interested in fashion) so you are not alone 🙂 I love your choice of the kurtis…and such an informative post, thanks.

  4. I think your one of the few girls I met who doesn’t like shopping. Im not really a fan and I think is painful to go shopping with the gf. I know what I want and will go to get it. That being said I absolutely love markets and can spend hours in them. Great post!

  5. A very good guide for shoppers! It’s a good thing you can rent because buying everything and then not getting to use them again would be a bit of a hassle. I love going to the local markets when i’m traveling. Nice place to people watch too hehe. Love your tips about pashmina! learned something new!

  6. Love, love, love markets so this post was so much fun! Used to work import markets at home myself. Thanks for the great tips, tea and textiles are definitely my thing:) A trip to India is in order for sure.


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