Inside the secret life of a daigou shopper: Woman reveals how she once sold 300 tins of baby formula a month to China but now her business is collapsing due to the pandemic
- Daigou shopper Christine Liu said her business has plunged since March 2020
- The 28-year-old buys products like baby formula and handbags to send to China
- Coronavirus has disrupted Australia’s billion dollar daigou industry, experts say
Christine Liu, a so-called daigou shopper, said that she now has to ask her parents for money because her sales have plunged so much.
‘I felt guilty … even though I can hardly make ends meet, I didn’t want to ask,’ the 28-year-old told the ABC.
The daigou phenomenon has exploded in Australia in recent years with major supermarkets implementing limits on baby formula after shelves across the country were cleared of the item.
Christine Liu (pictured shipping products back to China), a so-called daigou shopper, said she has now had to get other work because her sales have plunged so much
The daigou phenomenon has exploded in Australia in recent years with major supermarkets implementing limits on baby formula after shelves across the country were cleared of the item
The billion dollar industry has a strong demand for Australian brands such as baby formula, with products from the a2 Milk Company being facvourite, and vitamins from companies such as Blackmores.
Australian items, particularly health products, are sought after in China because they have a reputation for quality and safety.
The demand for baby formula in particular can be traced back to a 2008 scandal in which melamine was found in contaminated Chinese formula, resulting in six infant deaths and another 300,000 children fell ill.
Australia also often has access to brands and products which are harder to get in China, with Ms Lui saying she would also shop for items such as make-up or even luxury handbags.
Ms Lui, who recently graduated from the Australian National University, has also found a waitressing job to supplement the income she has lost from her diagou business.
‘I was often overwhelmed by too many orders, but I’ve hardly had a message on my phone this year. I am missing those busy days so, so much,’ Ms Liu said.
Ms Liu (pictured) said she expects diagou would continue is Australia but in a much smaller market
About 1,000 physical stores were also dotted across the country dedicated to sending products back to China, though many have now closed
Ms Lui said she would regularly get 300 orders per month for tins of baby formula but in September she only received 50 orders.
The diagou industry in Australia is shrinking, Ms Lui observes, but says many of her fellow shoppers will remain with a smaller customer base.
Before COVID-19 there were an estimated 150,000 daigou in Australia – with some professional and others being temporary visitors such as tourists and international students.
About 1,000 physical stores were also dotted across the country dedicated to sending products back to China, though many have now closed.
Pictures from 2019 showing three-tonne pallet loads of baby formula (pictured) sitting on the tarmac at Sydney airport ready to be flown to Hong Kong
An airport worker said the pallets, being shipped to Hong Kong according to their labels, were loaded with multiple brands of baby formula such as A2 Platinum Toddler Milk and S26 Gold Progress (pictured is the shipping docket)
The reasons for the shrinking daigou market are twofold, according to those in the industry.
The first is a concern over the coronavirus itself, with packages being handled by by multiple people.
‘For safety concerns, they prefer products produced or stored in China, because parcels may contract COVID-19 during delivery from overseas,’ Ms Liu said.
Secondly, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted international freight and logistics to the extent where Chinese consumers would have too wait too long for products, according to industry consultant Jerome Fu.
One of the biggest logistic providers for daigou shoppers in Australia – Blue Sky Express – went bankrupt in May.
About $800,000 worth of products that were in transit with the company have reportedly gone missing.
The a2 Milk Company said in a recent financial report the business expects the drop in daigou demand to affect the company’s profits well into 2021.
One diagou business operator, Lonlong Hua said the industry is in the midst of a major shift but she expected it would continue in a slightly different form – with diagou acting more as influencers and connecting with Chinese shoppers directly rather than through freight businesses.
Diagou store fronts (pictured) often advertise using large posters of some of their wide range of Australian products