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Freelance Exporters Cash in on Chinese Demand for Australian Products

  • Ralph Jennings

Chinese "daigou" shopping agent Na Wang selects an Australian breakfast cereal product popular in China, during a shopping trip for Chinese customers at an Australian supermarket in Sydney, Australia, Aug. 2, 2016.

Daigou is a cottage industry in Australia, selling millions of dollars’ worth of beauty products, infant formula, wine and vitamins directly to consumers in China, who pay premium prices for highly-prized consumer goods.

Daigou, freelance retail agents who buys goods to order, are part of a booming trade where vitamins, baby food and other consumer goods are bought from supermarkets and drug stores for clients back home who are not afraid to pay higher prices for Australian goods.

In Australia, daigou are almost exclusively from mainland China. Many are small enterprises set up by students to help subsidize their rent and university fees, who sell to family and friends. But others grow far bigger.

Benjamin Sun, the co-founder of ‘Think China’, a Sydney-based digital marketing firm, said Chinese buyers want safe and genuine goods.

“The trust with their local food is relatively low, so that they believe the products made in Australia is a premium and good quality. That is why [a] whole industry just started. Well, usually daigou start from a personal network. In [the] Australia and New Zealand scenario, it is pretty much food, dairy, supplements. The daigou certainly is a very big proportion of the market. They are small but they are a lot of people. If you add them together, they are huge,” said Sun.

In Australia, it is estimated there are 40,000 daigou, which means “buying on behalf of” in Mandarin.

Earlier this year, Beijing tightened regulations on cross-border online shopping, but there is still money to be made, especially in ‘white gold’, or baby milk formula. In 2008, at least half-a-dozen children died and as many as 300,000 fell ill in China after consuming contaminated milk products.

The scale of the daigou trade has prompted some larger retailers in Australia and beyond to go into partnerships with these freelance shopping consultants to open up new, untapped markets in China.