9 Tips for Navigating the Bootleg Market in Manila

Every time someone new joins me in Manila inevitably the topic of where to get “those really cheap knockoffs” comes up and there is really only one place you ever need to go in Manila to get all your favorite name brands – for a fraction of the price.

I was just there today and I got to thinking that maybe I should write a post about the experience, maybe help some travelers find a great deal on some awesome (though really – novelty) gifts for our less wandering family and friends in our home countries. [PICTURES]

My sister is on her first trip to The Philippines so of course she had to get some "goods" for everyone back home.
My sister is on her first trip to The Philippines so of course she had to get some “goods” for everyone back home.

So one thing to note is that the shop keepers and the managers and purse pimps (I’ll explain later) don’t like you taking photos here. Understandably too – their booths are littered with black market bootlegs from all over the asian market. Does it make sense? No, because at any moment in time there is probably a dozen or more law enforcement officials around. Nobody cares. But the shop keepers do and they do NOT want you taking pictures of their stalls with your phone or camera.


Ok – so here we go, rules for not getting taken for a ride…

…after your cab ride to Greenhills Mall. This is the place to go in the city to get nice stuff. Well at the least, knockoff nice stuff.

Greenhills Shopping Center, Ortigas Avenue, North Western Street, San Juan, Metro Manila 1500, Philippines

1. Don’t say your feelings out loud.

Listen I get it, you really love that purse, or you really are crazy about that new swiss watch. Think it to yourself, or do a silent nod at your buddy, but don’t speak your feeling out loud. These people are sharks – and the item you love is blood in the water. The moment they hear you say those words you’ll have a half dozen versions in a half dozen sizes shoved in your face.

2. Be Polite.

The shopkeepers are working, this is their job, their livelihood, they aren’t trying to take advantage of you (…totally) and being rude to them doesn’t make them respect you, it makes them think you’re an asshole. Which you are – the moment you are rude. If you aren’t interested smile, say Selamat po, and walk away. They aren’t going to chase you and they aren’t going to be mad that you respectfully waved off their advances.

3. The first price, is the worst price.

This is common sense right? They are going to hit you with the highest price possible and they EXPECT to be negotiated down. Unfortunately for us, and fortunately for them, most tourists don’t negotiate. Good advice on negotiating is aim for 50% of what they offer first. That seems to be about what this stuff is really worth. Start below that point. If the shopkeeper wants PP4,000 then offer the PP1,500.

Both of you know you’re ending at PP 2,000 but the dance will continue for a bit until they reluctantly agree to your price, bemoan your actions for starving their hungry children, and then happily slap your money all around the stall. That leads me to…

4. Be ready to walk away.

Just because they’ve pulled eighty bags of the shelf to show you, and unpackaged a dozen of them, spilling paper all over the shop floor doesn’t obligate you to buy something from them. If they won’t budge on their price, or won’t get down to your price point, then don’t buy it. Tell them you are going to walk around and look elsewhere for a better price – AND THEN DO THAT.

They will beg, plead, and haggle with you almost relentlessly as you walk away – but they don’t want to go that low with the price. Walk away. Make a note of where the shop is and if you really want the thing – and the price isn’t terrible then come back later. It’ll make their day.

5. You aren’t their first customer (of the day).

Don’t get roped into this. They say it a lot that you are their first customer and that you will bring them good luck by buying at their shop. Ok this might be true, but you shouldn’t feel compelled to spend there just because of that. They say it to everyone.

6. Expect to get beaten with your own money. 

It’s a good luck thing, or a good show anyways. Once you’ve agreed to a price and hand them the money, they will smack the daylights out of you with it and then repeat the process all around their stall. Never have I felt more like a stripper then when I was getting wads of PP 100 notes slapped around my chest.

Seriously though, this goes back to the don’t be rude rule. This isn’t scary, it isn’t assault, they aren’t putting a voodoo curse on you for bartering them down so far. They, at the very least, are showing off to the other vendors because they made a sale and they didn’t. (Neener neener neener).

7. They are all working together.

It’s not a bunch of people working for themselves and struggling against the other shop keepers to feed themselves. They are ALL employees of someone else. The supplier. If you want something particular at one booth, but they don’t have it in your size – don’t worry, a dozen shopkeepers will scurry off to other shops and find that size, that color, and bring it back to you. This is good, that means you aren’t starving their kids  by not buying in their shop. They’re going to eat just fine on payday.

Remember when I said I would explain “purse pimps” to you later. Here is that later. The rare, and often unseen purse pimps are the “managers” in charge of several booths who are the end all point in negotiations. The shop keepers are able to barter pretty much entirely with you, but if you get really steep on a big sale – they may call in one of the purse pimps (this is my term mind you, not an official title) to get an approval nod.

8. Expect to see some strange things.

This is a different country, it is a different part of the world. They do things differently here. Expect to see some strange things and get some strange offers. Don’t freak out – relax man. There are going to be full hijab clad muslims and tube top wearing lady-boys trying to peddle you the same purse side by side. Just go in there with an open and non-judgmental mindset and you’ll be fine.

9. Be Smart.

You’re just as likely to get pickpocketed here as you are to get stabbed in Chicago or murdered in Detroit. In fact in a lot of ways America is a far more dangerous place. But don’t be foolish, keep a hand on your wallet and don’t let them see your money. If a bill is suspect when you get change, ask for a different one, if someone says you need to go into the dark corner of the parking garage to see something awesome – don’t. Be smart. Be respectful. But be smart.

BONUS TIP: Never shop at the first booths by the door. That is premium real estate and they expect people to pay premium prices because they are the first booth you see and stop at when you walk in. You’ll almost always see better prices in the middle of the fray.


And there you have it, those are some simple rules to navigating the bootleg market in Manila. Just some last pointers. When you go in the main floor (ground level) is where all your clothes, watches, jewelry (like pearls) are at. If you go up to floor two those are where you will find the shops for electronics and software. You can get your phones unlocked, jailbroken, glass repaired on your cracked devices, anything, and the rate is awesome. I highly suggest having them do screen protectors for you – they are extremely talented at getting them on perfectly. There is an ACTUAL mall attached to this too, so if you are craving marble and luxury just walk on over there. Lots of food and restaurants (including American Favorites) all around too.

If you need a clean bathroom best to buy a soda at McD’s or KrispyKreme and use theirs. The public ones are a bit crowded and a bit lackluster. Now for a few cell phone shots! (off an old iPhone 3GS I had unlocked when I got here) :-)


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Published by wanderingnick208

Nick Henderson is an FAA rated commercial pilot, world traveler, blogger, podcaster, photographer, and all-around good guy. His love of travel, adventure, food, and fun has taken him around the world and back again.

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