The Decline of the Overseas Buyers Market

The Decline of the Overseas Buyers Market

The Jig Is Up

Huxiu, 2019

Editorial Rating



With the rise of China’s affluent middle class, a lucrative cross-border e-commerce market worth hundreds of billions of yuan has popped up to satisfy the growing demand for foreign luxury items. Independent traveling shopping agents who sell goods on social media platforms such as WeChat have found a niche. But in August 2018, China passed new laws to regulate e-commerce – with significant effects on the cross-border market. Op-ed writer Lu Nan’s piece on traces the developments and dissects the role this informal economy has served in Chinese society.


The Chinese are notorious overseas travelers and shoppers. In premium outlets, designer stores and airport duty-free shops, they load up on everything from basic toiletries to luxury goods. Often, these shoppers are daigou – agents who travel overseas to buy items they can resell in China’s booming “gray market.” Selling imported goods on social media was a lucrative business until China’s government announced a new wave of e-commerce regulations. These laws regulate vast gray areas in e-commerce practices and are supposed to inhibit the flow of untaxed foreign goods into the Chinese market.

The government began cracking down on imports in fall 2018, opening luggage of unlucky shopping agents and charging hefty duty taxes on their piles of designer cosmetics and handbags. Some agents resorted to hiding in bathrooms for hours after landing – often to no avail; others dumped their...

About the Author

Lu Nan is an op-ed columnist on, covering the latest on e-commerce, pop-culture and social commentary.