For many, there is not much to say about Taiwan shopping, except perhaps electronics.
Actually the opposite is true.
Taiwan makes surprisingly beautiful and different handicrafts. And, unexpectedly, Taiwan is not always so convenient for buying electronics.
Below you can find a list of ideas for shopping in Taiwan, tips about things to buy and where to buy them, based also on items we actually bought and shipped/brought back home as gifts to our relatives and friends.
This list is far from being complete, still I hope it is quite comprehensive and it can be useful for you.
Several workshops in Taiwan manufacture qipao. Qipao (also called cheongsam is the splendid chinese dress worn by Taiwanese women for formal occasions.
Taiwan Shopping - Maggie Cheung wears several elegant qipao in the film In the Mood for Love.
I don't mean kitch "Chinatown style" clothes but elegant and modern dresses, usually of silk, exquisitely decorated, handmade by Taiwanese skilled taylors for mainly local customers.
The price of a good quality qipao starts from 5000-6000 NTD and goes up to 30,000 NTD and more ...
There are also several brands and stores that sell more casual (and convenient) women clothes, but still with evident chinese roots.
If you are interested to men clothes, you may want to have a look to the traditional chinese male jacket - "modernized" and smart too - called magua.
If you are in Taipei please have a read to this page listing a few traditional chinese dresses workshops in the city.
The simple and smart YongSheng cloth bags, made in Tainan, are a "cult" for Japanese ladies. Their Taiwan shopping will include a stop in Tainan to grab one.
Modern Taiwanese shoes such as Aso and La New have a well deserved reputation for quality at very affordable prices. I really suggest you to try them!
No doubt, the capital of Taiwan pottery has been, for the last 200 years, the town of Yingge, not far from Taipei.
Yingge holds a superb Ceramics Museum (one of the best museums in Taiwan actually) and the Old Pottery Street, where lots of ceramic shops line under the arches.
Fine potteries can be also found at several kilns and workshops scattered around the island - pottery is a very popular craftmanship in Taiwan, indeed.
If you don't have time, don't forget to have a look at department stores such as Sogo and Mitsukoshi. They often have some selection of local pottery, even if at higher prices.
The art of glass in Taiwan is mainly a modern one.
Taiwan Shopping - LiuLiGongFang Shop in Taipei 101 Mall.
The taiwanese capital of woodcarving is Sanyi, a town in Miaoli County.
Sanyi carpenters have a museum too, maybe not as outstanding as the Yingge one, still very very interesting.
Along Sanyi main street you can visit many furniture and woodcarving shops. Among the most unusual items on sale there are tables made from a single massive tree root.
They are a little bit too heavy to bring back home and, of course, not really environmentally friendly. But I like them very much.
From Wikipedia, Chinese inkstones are "literally a stone mortar for the grinding and containment of ink" - Chinese ink is solid, normally available in sticks. Inkstones are made from flat stones, very fine-grained.
Beautifully carved inkstones have been collected by emperors and connoisseurs trough the centuries.
An ancient inkstone.
Inkstone carving is a minor (compared to China) tradition in Taiwan, that developed in Ershui in Yunlin County. Recently the art of inkstone carving in Ershui had a little renaissance. Modern Master Tung Tso, is widely known around Taiwan for his beautiful inkstones.
Jade and stones are one of the great passions for Chinese. Several cities in Taiwan hold permanent jade markets, where dozens of sellers gather.
There you can find a lot of stones, from the proper Chinese jade, Taiwan jade, collector stones, fossiles, etc.
Jade can costs from a few hundreds to millions of Taiwan dollars.
In Jade Markets you can also buy other kind of stones. Really Taiwanese is a stone called Hualien rose marble, which texture resembles a fantastic landscape of a Chinese painting.
Taiwan Shopping - My brother-in-law found this rose marble on the river bed in Hualien. This is the best stone of his small collection.
Even for experts to buy jade at the right price can be a difficult task. My simple advice is just to buy the item you like at a price that is fair for you, without being lured by the possible value of the stone itself. Or, otherwise, really ask for the help of an expert!
Since the japanese time, paper umbrellas have been made in the quietly charming Hakka town of Meinong, not far from Kaohsiung. I really like Meinong paper umbrellas and I consider them a very affordable albeit beautiful items for your Taiwan shopping.
Instead Lugang, an old port town in Central Taiwan, is famous for paper Chinese lanterns.
Taipei airport is not big so the duty free, your last chance for Taiwan shopping, is quite modest.
You can still find some interesting souvenirs at the two shops (at Terminal 1 and 2) run by the National Museum of History. They sell well-made (and not expensive) copies of Chinese artifacts such as paintings, ceramics, photo books. Keep in mind anyway that the shops are quite small so the selection is not very wide.
My feeling anyway is that those shop, and the shop at the National Palace Museum, offered better quality in the past, before they started targeting Mainland Chinese tourists.
For the rest Taipei Duty Free offers nothing interesting, including the two "micro" computer stores.
If you are still in Taipei, for your Taiwan shopping I really recommend you the Taiwan Handicraft Promotion Center. It is run by the government so it offers a wide and good quality selection from all over Taiwan.
It can be considered a trusted one-stop Taiwan Shopping.
Taiwan produces some of the best quality tea in the world. Most of Taiwan tea is sold and drunk in the island by demanding local customers.
So it is not "tourist stuff" and this make it even more interesting for Taiwan shopping.
You can taste and buy tea in a lot of places, from tea shops and tea houses to the tea farms.
The best high mountain oolong teas will cost several thousands of NTD for a Taiwan jin (600 grams).
You can also find many kinds of tea that are grown in less "noble" areas, like Songboling on Baguashan terrace. These teas are definitively more affordable but their quality is still much better than many teas drunk in the west.
If you are really interested in chinese tea, I strongly suggest you to try the tea called Dong Fang Mei Ren (Oriental Beauty). The intoxicating fragrance - as orange and honey - of this special tea comes from an insect biting the tea leaves. For this reason Dong Fang Mei Ren - an expensive tea, indeed - is, by definition, an organic tea. In fact pesticides would kill the precious insect.
In a different page of Taiwan Travel Experience you can find a brief introduction to the different types of chinese tea that you can try and buy in Taiwan.
A box of cakes as the one shown here will cost only 300 NTD. I think is a great Taiwan shopping idea.
There are many others Taiwanese sweets that are good to eat and easy to bring on a plane, as Moon Cakes and Pineapple Cakes.
In my "Italian" opinion Taiwanese spirits are not so interesting (sorry but Gaoliang - at least the ones I drank - cannot compare with a good "grappa" ... no offense intended!). Aboriginal millet wine is not bad at all. I enjoyed both the home-made millet wine, milky and sweet, as the more refined, dryer one, as Malasan.
If your Taiwan shopping should include electronics, it depends mainly from which country you are from and which electronics components you are interested in.
Prices in Taiwan can be quite low for components such as motherboards, video cards, flash memories ... Not really convenient for hard disks and computers.
This is especially true for the low end stuff, while, for expensive items, Taiwan can be more expensive than your home country.
One more thing: often, in the shop and in the ubiquitous electronics chain called 3C, the selection is not very wide.
The best place to buy is Nova shopping mall, where dozens of small computer stores gather together. Nova is in Taipei and Taichung.
Better to know what exactly you need and about the prices in your home country.
Taiwan is not China. Usually the foreigner is not considered a cow to milk and different prices, for locals and for foreigners, are virtually unheard of.
Bargaining normally does not happen in shops in Taiwan, at least not "hard bargaining".
A nice way to bargain, which often works, is to ask with a smile if "by chance, is there any special discount for the day?"
In this way the seller can decide to lower the price - the discount will be of 10%, maximum 20% usually. If she cannot (as in department stores) or does not want, nobody will lose the face ...
By the way, I am Italian and I have no problem to say that when I am in my home country I often miss the courtesy and respect used to customers in Taiwanese shops.
This is really one of the great pleasures of shopping in Taiwan.
The video below, from Peggy Teaches Chinese, perfectly shows how to bargain in Taiwan - even at the night market! With a big smile!