Tips for Shopping in India

Before I left for my India trip in February (which feels like forever ago), I had a HUGE shopping list. I kid you not; everything from kundan payal and chand bali earrings, to garam masala, Amrita Pritam books, and craft supplies were on my list. Sadly, I didn’t even put a dent in my shopping list, and came back a little underwhelmed and wishing I had found more goodies. I think the reason my India shopping was unsuccessful is because I was unprepared for how shopping happens at markets in India. So here are my 5 Top Tips for Shopping in India.tips for shopping in india1. There is no such thing as browsing
This was the hardest one for me to get used to. Unless you go to a major mall or metropolitan centre, you can’t just browse around a store. Particularly if you go to small shops in the market, the shop owner will have to show you anything and everything you want to see. So if you want to buy bangles (chudiyan), you tell them a colour, style, or even just your size and they’ll just keep showing you box after box until you choose one you like.

tips for shopping in india{The closest I came to browsing was checking out the few suits hanging outside the stores}

This was a hard concept for me to grasp, and I kept asking – isn’t there just a shelf where I can look at things and then tell you which one I like? It was similar even in the spice shops I went to. There are no bins of spices where you can smell before you buy, no reading the back of packages, just give the shop owner your list and he’ll pack up your goods.

I think if I had been prepared for that type of shopping experience I would have enjoyed it more. I guess I just had this vision of wandering through the bazaars and spotting the perfect jhumke, or shoes, or something. tips for shopping in india

2. Sit down and get comfortable {and let go of clean-up guilt}
If you are shopping for any textiles wear clothes that you are comfortable sitting in. There is pretty much no other way to shop for clothing in India, you have to sit down in a store and let them show you stuff. Oh, and don’t bother feeling bad about all the stuff they take out and show you, apparently they are totally okay putting it all away! (I felt really bad about leaving them with piles of items).tips for shopping in india{My favourite bangles from India above, and a very special chudi from an artisan in Jaipur below. Read his story here}tips for shopping in india

3. Shop for unique items, not discounts
Maybe it’s because I live in a city that is hugely populated with Indians and we have a lot of Indian shops here, I didn’t find India super inexpensive. Even when we shopped in roadside bazaars, it was just a bit less expensive than I’m used to. This was kind of a shopping downer because I’ve always been told how ‘cheap’ India is

What I did love though was finding unique items. I would suggest shopping based on different pieces and unique finds, not price. My favourite find in India was a set of colourful Jaipuri bangles – I’ve never seen those locally. I also got a really pretty dupatta in Amritsar that I felt was different from those I’ve seen in Canada. The selection really is unique in India, and as far as I could see, that’s what you should be excited about, not discounts.tips for shopping in india

4. Consider quality when shopping roadside
I bought a pair of the most beautiful colourful bangles from a street vendor in Jaipur – they were 10 rupees each…do you see where this story is going. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me when I was there that I should get a couple of pairs at that price, and they’ve already started coming apart. Lesson learned; you get what you pay for anywhere in the world!

5. Visit designer boutiques and malls for Indo-Western pieces
For most of our trip we stuck to non-touristy bazaars and street side markets, but one evening in Jaipur we went to a place called the World Trade Mall. They had some major retailers I recognized like; Zara, Vero Moda, and Aldo, but they also had some Indian brands and I particularly liked a place called Shoppers Stop. I ended up buying a fitted kurti for the equivalent of $20 Canadian, which felt really steep compared to the one I had bought on the roadside for about $3.50 Canadian. 

The difference though isn’t just the quality of the fabric, it’s also in the print and fit of the kurti. Pieces I saw in the mall stores would easily transition into your Western wardrobe yet have an Indian feel. Sometimes the skirts and and kurti’s I saw in bazaars looked to kitchy or wild to mix with my current western wardrobe. If Indo-fusion dressing is your thing, definitely visit a mall.

Overall my favourite part of shopping in India was actually just wandering the markets, and observing the locals, but next time I go I’ll make sure to get more check marks on my shopping list! {And maybe I’ll focus on something other than chudiyan}

Images by: Aziz Dhamani Photography

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5 Comments

  1. May 18, 2015 / 7:41 am

    Beautiful colourful pics. Yes, I heard even though the shopping is good in India, the haggling can be a bit stressful. Great tips!

  2. May 18, 2015 / 11:03 am

    We might be going to India soon – thanks for the tips. The last time we were there, we never got any shopping done, mostly sightseeing.

  3. May 18, 2015 / 12:06 pm

    What amazing photos! I’ve never been to India so these are some great (surprising) tips! Thanks Raj!

  4. salmadinani
    May 18, 2015 / 12:52 pm

    thanks for the tips. hopefully another trip to India is in the cards so you can do more shopping this time 😉

  5. May 18, 2015 / 3:39 pm

    I grew up in karachi yet it always takes me a while to readjust to how to shop there. last time I went to the bazaar I had to strap the little one in my baby bjorn and I am pretty sure I paid a 20% premium for being visibly ‘farangi’ lol

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