How this teenager makes $2,000 a week
SHE'S only 18, but Sydney business student Sherry Jia already earns more than $100,000 a year just from shopping in her spare time.
Ms Jia is one of thousands of "daigou", or personal shoppers, who buy popular Australian products including vitamins, tablets, skincare products and baby formula and ship them to customers in China.
"It's very fun just shopping and sending stuff," Ms Jia, who earns about $2000 a week from her business, told SBS News.
"They heard that Australian products are better than Chinese products and they want me to buy stuff for them. So I started buying stuff and sending them to China. My family introduced me to other members. They just keep sending my WeChat to other people as well, so the business is getting bigger and bigger.
"You just need to buy it from the chemist ... and send the products straight from these Chinese shops, so you don't need to have them at home. I tell them the price and I ask them for the phone number, their name, and their photo ID, their address, and I just go and buy it and ship [it] to China."
Since 2014, the number of daigou in Australia has doubled from 40,000 to around 80,000, with some earning anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars a year.
With insatiable demand for clean, green Australian products and an estimated 50 million potential customers in China, the daigou industry shows no signs of slowing.
Fears that Australian brands selling their wares directly through online stores such as Tmall Global would kill off the trade have not been borne out, partly due to the difficulty local companies face overcoming regulatory barriers.
But the market is evolving. While images of Chinese shoppers stripping shelves of baby formula and other products have caused controversy over the past few years, there are efforts to make the industry less chaotic.
AuMake, which plans to list on the stock market later this year, has five retail stores in Sydney which provide a one-stop shop for daigou to purchase and ship Australian products to their customers in China.
Keong Chan, AuMake's executive chairman, said earlier this year the company aimed to "guarantee consistent supply" and provide greater transparency and compliance to "what is currently a largely fragmented industry".
"Our aim is to provide a reliable alternative for Australian producers and suppliers who wish to promote their products and gain immediate exposure to Chinese customers via the growing daigou sales channel, as opposed to the expensive and often risky option of directly marketing into the large Chinese market," Mr Chan said.
Experts have estimated undeclared income from daigou could easily add up to $1 billion, and the money would be hard for the Australian Taxation Office to track as the transaction are conducted offshore.
Earlier this month, Brisbane mum Jessica Hook snapped photos of teams of up to eight daigou stripping baby formula from shelves in her local shopping centre. The 27-year-old said she sometimes spend several hours each week travelling to different supermarkets to find the brand she needed for her eight-month-old daughter.
"The supermarkets are making money, so they don't really mind," she said. "They're obviously having to deal with a lot of upset mothers - they all know that it's a serious problem. I don't think there is an easy answer. They can't enforce who can purchase formula."
It came after a Sydney mum was furious after witnessing a large group of people buying up baby formula at Coles in the inner-west. "There would have been easily 20 individuals purely buying formula that night - in that one hour," she told Kidspot.
"Seriously they were everywhere - no wonder staff can't keep up."