ABC News invites you to meet Angela Zhang. She’s one of over half a million international students currently attending university in Australia, and she’s also part of a marketing and retail phenomenon known to big Australian business as ‘the daigou channel’.

Zhang covers her university fees, pays her rent, and has no trouble meeting her living costs by being a daigou – which roughly translates as ‘buy on behalf of.’ She spends up to fifteen hours a day buying Australian-made products for customers back home in China, taking orders and sometimes broadcasting about products on Australian shelves to thousands on Chinese social media app, WeChat.

She says she accidentally joined an army of Australia-based daigou, estimated to number 150,000, one Christmas when a friend in China asked her to send some Australian products. Four months later, she quit her job and went full-time.

The 2008 baby-formula scandal in China, which left six infants dead, created a demand for Australian products – initially baby milk – which has now spread to other types of luxury and Australian-made items. Growth in China’s middle class since then has seen the daigou business become a multi-billion-dollar one, serviced by international students and new migrants.

Students Setting the Share Price – and Flying the Flag for Australian Companies Abroad

Hundreds of daigou-specialist logistics companies and stores now exist to serve daigou in Australia. These Chinese student-shoppers have even been known to influence company share prices when they show a preference for a specific brand. Those in the trade say that half a million packages depart Australian shores for China every week.

For Australian companies, Chinese international students paying their way by being daigou on the side are major marketing tools. Businesses that have tried to export directly to a Chinese market that the daigou established have learned a harsh lesson quickly – the daigou form a trusted bridge to Chinese consumers, which companies in Australia can’t replicate. 

Blackmores make vitamins and supplements which are popular in China. Interim CEO, Marcus Blackmore, told the ABC the daigou make up 25 per cent of his business. “We’re very dependent on the daigou in Australia. They’ve made the point to us that they do a hell of a lot of the marketing and the sales for our product in China.”

Read more on this story from ABC News.