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By Zhao Runhua / Jan 03, 2019 11:46 AM / Business & Tech

China’s ‘daigou’ shoppers have become a minor industry in themselves in recent years. They purchase hard-to-get or expensive products from overseas markets like the U.S., Europe, or Japan, and then bring them back to China to sell at a marked-up price. This price is still often cheaper than officially imported western items at Chinese stores.

But amid a government crackdown on the service, some daigou have taken a quirky approach to staying under the radar of authorities. Instead of posting photos of the products they’re selling, they’ve begun hand-drawing imitations of them, which to any government official perusing the internet might look like amateur artwork being shared online. But savvy buyers are able to piece together what is actually being offered.

One hand-drawing picture Caixin saw (below) shows lipstick with Chinese characters and three numbers. The caption – “I have poplar forest’s small gold bar!” – suggests the product being sold is the recently released “Rouge Pur Couture the Slim” from Yves-Saint-Laurent (YSL).

How would anyone infer this?

The first three letters of “poplar forest” in Chinese are “Y(ang) S(hu) L(in)” – the same as in Yves-Saint Laurent.

And the numbers – 9, 18, and 21 – tell the savvy shopper that lipstick shades 9, 18, and 21 are available.

A few daigous told Caixin that as e-commerce platforms such as Alibaba’s Taobao are tightening supervision over daigou sales, many have removed products from their Taobao sites, and are turning to WeChat instead, a more personal and low-profile social- based business platform. Due to the sensitivity of the issue, all daigous Caixin spoke to wished to remain anonymous.

Though the drawings were born out of a need to avoid official scrutiny, they now also serve as a novel way to attract consumer attention and to vent anger provoked by the crackdowns in the industry, sellers say.

WeChat owner Tencent said it has not yet issued any rules to oversee daigou activity on WeChat, though Tencent has never encouraged business marketing via personal accounts.

China’s new e-commerce law, which came into effect on Jan. 1, requires daigous to register their businesses and pay sales taxes. At the moment, many daigous’ revenues are completely personal and tax-free.

Daigous told Caixin that they’re closely watching their peers’ responses to the new law.

Related: New E-Commerce Law Will Force Vendors to Pay More Tax

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