Overpriced stationery in Shanghai

There seem to be many different kinds of shops selling stationery in Shanghai.


There are the functional ones, selling stationery and other office supplies. Customers seem to be companies, but you’ll also find pupils there.


There are the fashionable ones. You’ll find them near universities. They do have some normal stationery, but seem to focus on cute stationery. They also sell make-up and girly things, too. The fashionable stationery is not always of high quality.


Queen's Market - selected by Tokyo


…and then there are the overpriced stationery shops. They are often located in shopping centres. They sell all sorts of expensive stuff. To be fair, the price is not only the shops fault. Many items, even though they have been made in China, have been reimported from Japan or Korea. I assume that even in Japan or Korea they are not cheap in the first place and someone has to pay for (re-)importing small numbers of them, which are probably not very economical. You can often find other items in these shops, like Monchhichis or iPhone docking stations.


Queen's Market - selected by Tokyo
You can see the Delfonics range behind the theft detector pedestal


One example of this kind of shop is “Queen’s Market – selected by Tokyo” in the new Shanghai Hongkou Dragon Dream Shopping Centre. Amongst other items they are selling Delfonics‘ Rollbahn range, Japanese stationery with German text printed on that sounds very much like it’s coming straight out of a Kraftwerk song.

These kind of shops often don’t survive very long. One reason might be that there are similar shops near the shopping centres which pay less rent and sell similar items cheaper – often copies or similar no-name products.

In the last five years or so the number of these overpriced stationery shops has gone up steadily.



I would like to thank Hui Liu for telling me about this new shopping centre in Hongkou. I would have not gone there otherwise.

11 thoughts on “Overpriced stationery in Shanghai”

  1. Thanks for the interesting article. I have a few comments:

    Korean and Japanese stationery do seem to be more expensive (though I can’t tell which ones are made in China which ones are not), even on online shops like taobao. A friend that recently visited Korea attested what you said, they are not cheap in Korea. She visited a store next to an art college, namely an everyday store instead of a tourist store, and she was crying at the price of everything.

    Second-hand textbook stores, cute and girly things are among the few things I really really miss from China. I mean, sure they have those here in North America, but they are so grossly expensive…

    Digress: German seems like a status thing in Japan, just like English. In cartoons, the crowd will be in awe when someone speaks German.
    Maybe Japanese tourists are everywhere and the Japanese just like learning languages so this example doesn’t mean anything, but in Wien the ‘status’ idea was reinforced when I bumped into a group of old Japanese ladies that were taking a German course (it was adorable, the lady that talked to me kept saying ‘Also…’) I mean, I understand young people learning German for professional reasons, but senior in groups, this must be a popular or fashionable thing for them.

  2. How these shopping centre stationery shops survive is beyond me…the set up costs alone, to make it look “chic” for centre customers, must be prohibitive. The rents must be crippling. I understand there is a market for the new wealthy in China with money to burn, but is stationery necessarily on their menu. I would have thought, like Australia, they would be more interested in iphones and ipads and other electronic gadgets. Sure the odd notebook and pen to go to the Al Fresco cafe with..but I just don’t see the volumes. I just wonder how these shops do their market surveys before they open… and ….go broke.

  3. …and I must say, what I don’t like about these shops is their clean, technical spaces with large open areas…rather than the higgledy piggledy art shops that I prefer, where one can come across a treasure trove of items. These new places are so clinical in their design and lighting so powerful (security concerns I suppose) they leave me absolutely cold.

  4. I would agree with prices being high but I found all foreign goods in Shanghai to be expensive. In the large shopping centre opposite the Oriental Pearl, Muji was prohibitively expensive. Consequently I didn’t buy anything as I felt I was being ripped. There was also a small Lamy stand in the building. There prices were about double usual.

    In response to Claire. I live in Korea and I have found most stationery to be much cheaper than other countries. I have a fondness for mechanical pencils and I get them here for less than half the price in the UK. I grant that some of the famous stores can be a little pricier but still comparatively cheap.

  5. Thank you for your comments.

    Stephen, I haven’t heard of that. Thanks for sharing. I wonder whether the Lamy 2000 is still in the MoMA. I couldn’t find it on their web site, but it used to be in the museum.

    Claire, is even “normal” stationery is expensive there, not only “cute” stationery? In recent years all the cute and girly things I saw in shopping centres in China were quite expensive, much more expensive than they used to be. About the status of Germany/Europe/the West, there seem to be mixed messages in mangas and animes. I remember that they are often associated with being good (e.g. Cats’ Eye), but also sometimes with being cool/arrogant (e.g. Neon Genesis Evangelion) or even as being uninteresting and worse than Japan (I think that was in Video Girl Ai, but I am not sure, if not in VGA then in something similar).

    Kevin, my impression, but I might be very wrong here, is that young couples go there and the boys buy these things for the girls to “show their love for them” …but that’s my guess only. Proper stationery shops are nicer, but the number of those seems to go down while the number of the overpriced shops seems to go up…

    Neill, I first noticed that Lamy stand you mentioned in 2010 and was quite excited to see Lamy in Shanghai. This shopping centre used to be quite empty, but in recent years it has become so busy there…

    The one in PuDong:

    Now there are even more Lamy stands. There’s one in the Raffles shopping centre at the end of FuZhou Road (sorry, no picture) and one in XuHui in that shopping centre between Hua Shan Lu and Panyu Road. That shopping centre that, in the past, used to have the worst toilets.

    The one in XuHui:

    As you said some things are twice as expensive, but that seems to vary. Safaris are much more expensive, while the Pico is only slightly more expensive. One good thing is that these stands sell the old (and new) limited edition colours for the same price as the other colours. These colours sell for a lot more on eBay.

    Since you mentioned the price for mechanical pencils, I wonder how much paper is in Korea. Even though pens are much cheaper in China, compared tot he UK, the price for paper is very similar. Is it the same in Korea?

  6. I have just read my first comment, my apologies for the grammar errors, I will check my comments in future!

    Paper is not really my forte but imported paper seems to be more expensive. I bought a Rhodia No. 18 (A4 size) pad for W14,000 (£7.70) and a Paul Smith Rhodia No. 16 (A6 size) for W7500 (£4.15). However, this was an expensive shop, and I just wanted the paper. I’m quite sure they can be had for much cheaper from a Korean Internet site.

    Usually, I use Korean paper. it is much cheaper and good quality. I can usually pick up a decent spiral bound A4 size pad for around £1 – 2. There are many other interesting smaller pads for around 50p.

  7. China has a 18% VATax that adds a lot to the price. You can find things for the lower price or cheaper on Taobao but it is complicated to use. There are some small places that have some really interesting things like travel stickers and animal paperclips. Picking the right location in Shanghai is hard.

  8. Thanks for the info Neill!

    My friend got me some ‘normal’ pencils but she only buys ‘cute’ things herself, so most likely she was comparing cute Korean stationery to cute Chinese stationery, which apparently costs an arm and a leg in comparison.

    About stationery getting more expensive, I’ve been away for about 10 years so I don’t have a first hand impression, but given the crazy inflation in recent years (or CPI, I think they call it) it’s bound to happen.

    When I was in school, there were streets and markets of stationery (and girly things, cartoon stickers & posters, postcards etc), things were affordable, in early 90s children with 5RMB per week pocket money could buy a lot. Before year 2000 these shops started being taken over by DVD/CD shops. Now these markets are completely gone. I think what happened is: the profit margin for these stores are so thin that they can’t afford the rent, and the city has taken the land for other purposes. The few surviving ones that moved to shopping malls have to enlarge their profit margin to cover the cost, but as a result their target customers can’t afford them any more…

  9. Neill, thanks for the information on prices in Korea. It looks as if prices for paper are indeed similar in most places.

    ExcaliburZ, the VAT in Europe is similar. There is a rule that says it has to be between 15% and 27% (Germany & Netherlands: 19%, UK & Austria: 20%, Hungary: 27%). Taobao is quite convenient to use. Last time I ordered something from Taobao I just went to the corner shop and paid at a machine, in big cities there’s a great network for accepting payments!

    Claire, the funny thing is that many Chinese things are cheaper in Europe than in China (e.g. card readers), at least in shops (not TaoBao). The first time I went to China the DVD shops were already everywhere, but there aren’t many left now. I know the kind of shop you are talking about and in Shanghai there are fewer now, but there’s one thing I really like about them: I recent years they started selling board games 8^) unfortunately many are bad copies, but you can also find good copies or genuine board games there.

  10. Matthias, I missed this interesting post for some reason. A few thoughts:

    “Cute” stationery (very often incorporating various popular manga characters) originated in Japan a long time ago and its influence is still being felt to this day. The tradition is so firmly entrenched now that (I suspect) vendors and manufacturers feel it is necessary to incorporate such designs into stationery in order to sell to a young public. Sadly this means that in most cases they continue to trade quality for design.

    The status of the German language in Japan (similar to that of French) is something special and not a passing fad. I think it is important to note that Japan during its modernization absorbed much of Western thought, culture and technology directly from Europe, whereas for other parts of Asia that came later and from a different direction (America). So German is considered a very academic language and carries a certain cachet. Note how the tradition of performing Beethoven’s 9th on New Year’s Eve is an annual ceremony in Japan, and how they make a point of singing it in the original German.

    That said, I have a Delfonics bookmark. Kraftwerk, indeed! hahaha 🙂

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