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Wing On department store in Sheung Wan

Wing On department store in Sheung Wan

I love Wing On department store in Hong Kong! It’s a family-owned business founded in 1907 by two brothers who owned a fruit store in Australia, saved their money and returned to Hong Kong ten years later to establish Wing On.

Maybe I’m not looking in the right places, but department stores seem to be rare in Hong Kong. I’m talking about department stores in the Canadian style, like Sears or Hudson Bay Company, with everything from underwear to refrigerators. In HK, there are “department stores” like Sogo or Lane Crawford, but they tend to be heavy on designer clothes and luxury brands with a smattering of niche or household items thrown in. I find I have to go to specialty stores for pretty much everything here.

I was on the hunt for items for the home (towels, sheets, and the like) and headed to Wing On on Des Voeux Road (where the “ding-ding” trams run). I hadn’t been to that store for some time so I wasn’t sure what I would find, but I instantly hit the jackpot. In fact, my shopping went so well, I had to leave and go for lunch then return to the store for Part 2 of my shopping. What fun!Wing On in Sheung Wan

Only Chinese people and I shop at Wing On. Almost all the signage is in Chinese so it was impossible to know if I was looking at a sale sign or directions to the toilet, but the staff spoke a smattering of English and were very helpful. Here you will find most everything you would expect in a department store except for large appliances and furniture.

This store has a great selection of really desirable kitchenware and the greatest cooking gadgets, which is a surprise given that kitchens and cooking are so different here. A few of those gadgets found their way into my shopping bag.

I exerted great self-control and walked right past the excellent shoe department before finding what turned out to be a fine selection of sheets and towels. That’s when I was reminded that at department stores here, you can’t browse an entire department, taking items from one end to the other to compare. Instead, every brand leases its own floor space. So, for example, if I was shopping for an electric kettle, I will not find all the kettles in one place. Rather, they will be in different places according to the brand. I might get helpful information from a sales person about Brand X but if I go to the next aisle of the same type of item, that same sales person cannot help me; I have to get the sales person for that brand. I remember this from when I was shopping for shoes (honest – not on this trip). If you are looking for black flats for example, it is frowned upon to carry one pair around to compare. You have to try them on in that specific brand’s area with that brand’s sales staff, and heaven forbid should you sit on the wrong bench. And the staff will not say “there are other nice black flats over here, let me show you.” One thing this does is create a whole lot of jobs; there are sales people everywhere, each of them responsible for sometimes just two or three narrow rows of goods.

A busy day at Wing On

A busy day at Wing On

Wing On is a master at up-selling. With every purchase, you are given some little stamps that are taped to a promotional flyer. On my recent shopping trip, shoppers received one stamp for every $50 HKD spent. When you accumulated eight stamps, you could go to a little area on the basement level and choose from a set of promotional items; you use your stamps for that item but you still pay for it, albeit at a really low price. Kind of like a wow-that’s-a-really-good-price-I-think-I’ll-take-two price. The last time I was there, the promotion was on knives and cutting boards; this time it was towels and bathroom scales. I now have more of all of those in my house.

The other Wing On upsell tactic is the “lucky draw”. Shoppers are directed to Customer Service on the ground floor where you give the clerk all your shopping bills for the day. She calculates the total and gives you some relational number of percentage-discount coupons for your next shopping trip. In addition, you get to put your hand into a magic box (I’m not kidding) and pull out chips (you’re told how many you are entitled to) and those chips are then redeemed as cash coupons according to the value on the chip. Certainly people here love those kinds of games. I played along quite happily.

So this whole shopping expedition was a Hong Kong adventure unto itself! The tourism strategy in Hong Kong strongly revolves around luxury shopping, but I’m telling you — they are putting the focus on the wrong thing. For a truly Hong Kong shopping experience, go to Wing On.