China’s 300-billion Daigou Business: What’s Next After the Government Crackdown?


Jiaqi Luo | October 31, 2018

As aftershocks of the clampdown on Daigous continue to reverberate through the luxury shopping community in China, e-commerce platforms are rising to fill the gap.

The launch of China’s new e-commerce law, coupled with the 928 Daigou crackdown at the Pudong International Airport in Shanghai, has stirred up uncertainty in the global luxury industry. In fact, LVMH share prices reportedly fell in early October due to fears of a slowdown in Chinese spending.

Earlier this month, Luxury Society attended the live seminar “Reinterpreting the 300-billion Daigou market” hosted by Tencent media. During a debate, luxury e-commerce platform OFashion’s CEO Xiao Yu and N5 Venture Capital’s founder Xiao Yiwei shared their insights on how luxury buying will likely evolve in the post-Daigou era. According to Xiao Yu, the estimated Chinese luxury spending in 2018 is 600 billion RMB and Daigou purchases account for half of that, making it an estimated 300-billion industry.

Without Daigou, what is the next best alternative for Chinese consumers looking to buy authentic luxury goods at lower prices? First, let’s revisit the 928 daigou crackdown in Shanghai’s Pudong airport and take a look at how China’s 300-billion Daigou industry is in danger.

What Happened During The 928 Daigou Crackdown

Image: Sohu

September 28 2018 marked an important date in the history of Chinese luxury consumption. In Shanghai Pudong airport, all passengers returning from Seoul were stopped by Chinese customs for baggage inspection. Seoul has been a classic shopping destination for Daigous to obtain global brands at a discount. More than 100 passengers from same Seoul-Shanghai flight were found guilty of illegal imports.

It was every Daigou’s living nightmare. One of them relayed the unfolding events through WeChat text messages. Screenshots of this message thread eventually made its way online. The messages read,

“In the line to pay my fine”

“I was live streaming in duty free shop during the day, but live streaming fine payment during the night (face palm emoji)”

A Daigou’s WeChat record of 928 crackdown got popular online. Image: Sohu

Whether as a full-time profession or simply a hobby, the Daigou business is one based on relationships. In fact, the first clients of most Daigous are generally from his or her own social network. Since Daigous operate in a legal gray area and rely solely on private transactions, customers often have a hard time verifying the authenticity of their purchases. Needless to say, seeking redress in the case of fraud is difficult or near impossible.

Within the last decade or so, Daigous have become rather ubiquitous. Chinese netizens often joke on social media that “everyone has a Daigou friend on his/her WeChat”, or “Daigou is our generation’s best marketing guru”. Rumors of Daigous making a minimum of $100k USD a year and buying houses while still in college flood the internet, making the Daigou profession both a mysterious and highly coveted one in China.

On September 28, however, this all came to a screeching halt. Within a night, the image of Daigous as self-made businessmen was reduced to that of illegal importers.

Chinese Luxury Consumers Have Changed

The Daigou business flourished in China largely because of strong domestic demand for global luxury products. This demand is quickly changing. During the seminar, OFashion’s CEO Xiao Yu offered his observations on shifting consumer tastes by analyzing the purchase data of its platform’s 3 million active buyers. Here are our major takeaways.

1. Chinese Consumers Love Buying “Hits”

The biggest difference between luxury consumers from China and those from mature markets is that Chinese consumers prefer mainstream “hit” items, while mature market consumers also buy a brand’s long-tail (niche) products.

2. Entry-Level Luxury Sells Best

Out of all the luxury product categories, entry-level items with a price range of 2000-5000RMB (430-730USD) exhibit the strongest sales performance.  

3. Consumer Tastes Have Diversified

While Chinese consumers concentrated their research on highly famous luxury brands in the past, they are now much more receptive to niche brands. Bestselling product styles have also shifted from traditional classics like the Salvatore Ferragamo ballet flat, to streetwear brands. Additionally, Chinese consumers are now searching more about domestic brands compared to four years ago, when most searches were about established global brands.

4. The Lipstick Effect Doesn’t Quite Apply In China

Considered an entry-level luxury product, lipsticks have been selling like hot cakes in the Chinese market recently. While the “lipstick effect” – a global economic theory that postulates the correlation between beauty product sales and economic downturns – may hold true in many markets, industry professionals have stressed that it might not necessarily be the case in China. While China might be in the midst of a lipstick craze, experts have noted that lifestyle brands that are inspiring, soulful, and fun, can still rise to the top of the market quickly.

How Platforms Can Rise To The Challenge

Now with the individual Daigou business in danger, it’s time for luxury cross-border platforms to shine. As the live seminar’s two speakers noted, inefficiency is still a huge pain point in the cross-border industry. That said, cross-border solutions aiming to improve efficiency would likely to grow fast.

As the luxury buying business faces tightening controls by regulators, consumers are turning to professional buyers, reliable platforms, or buyer’s platforms — a combination of the former two. Besides established luxury e-commerce platforms such as Tmall Global, JD’s Toplife, Secoo and VIP, platforms that specialize in serving professional buyers are booming, too. Tmall Global’s Luxury Direct has turned buyers into consultants and made fashion-consulting service a selling point. The platform’s “About” page reads, “Our buying team takes orders straight from fashion weeks and selects products from brand official showrooms all across Europe.” OFashion’s app “Buyer Box”, an app targeting professional buyers, has even a CRM (Client Relationship Management) system for users to personalize a client’s order.

Tmall Luxury Direct’s page

OFashion’s BuyerBox app

The rise of these cross-border buying/selling platforms come at a welcome time and provide consumers with more choices. But the degree to which they will be able to overcome logistical issues eventually gain traction in the market remains to be seen.