Chinese citizen Bao Ding earns up to 1.5 million yen ($14,100) a month just by going shopping in Tokyo.

"Social buyers" living in Japan like Bao buy Japanese goods in bulk to resell on social media sites to followers in China.

Bao, 24, who lives in the capital, posts images of cosmetics, diet supplements and other items that she has picked up almost daily on her Xiaohongshu account, the Chinese version of Instagram. Her account has more than 1,000 followers in China.

When Bao gets orders for items through Xiaohongshu, she buys them at department stores and pharmacies, and packs and mails them to customers. She tacks a 10-percent fee on top of the goods’ prices and delivery costs.

Trend Express Inc. estimates that more than 450,000 social buyers are working in Japan.

Trades totaling hundreds of billions of yen are believed to be made annually between Japan and China through social buyers, according to the international e-commerce support firm.

Japanese firms, originally wary of social buyers, are now holding events to woo them, hoping to harness social media's word-of-mouth power to expand sales in China as foreign visitors to Japan spend less.

At the Social Buyer Expo held in May in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro district, 22 companies, including confectionery maker Morinaga & Co. and Kintetsu Department Store Co., presented their products to 1,000 Chinese buyers who live in Japan.

Attenir Corp., affiliated with major cosmetics maker Fancl Group, said it distributed samples of its cosmetics and introduced its products at the event to “increase its number of Chinese fans.”

An Attenir representative said the firm “previously had a negative image” of Chinese social buyers because it didn't understand their activities and believed they resold their goods at extremely cheap prices.

But after it noticed cases where product reviews widely shared on social media led to better sales, Attenir said it realized the buyers “could be good business partners to promote our products’ attractions and values.”

The company has since moved to make full use of social buyers to increase its name recognition and sales in China.

Drug maker Earth Corp., which also took part in the Social Buyer Expo, directly contacts social buyers on social media to present its products.

Since it often receives large orders from them, Earth said it intends to nurture the relationships as the “second pillar” of its business, in addition to spending by visitors to Japan.


After legal restrictions imposed by China on online shopping started to negatively impact tax-free sales at Japanese department stores and pharmacies, Trend Express, which organized the expo, developed an app to assist social buyers.

When social buyers order goods on the app, Trend Express delivers the ordered articles to consumers in China on their behalf. That means social buyers do not need to purchase or send goods by themselves, while Trend Express pays the Chinese government tariffs on behalf of the buyers.

The feature works to reassure companies who join the program that they don't have to worry about social buyers not paying tariffs.

“Non-Japanese foreign companies are also boosting their efforts to appeal to consumers,” said a Trend Express representative.

“Japanese businesses might lose out unless they crack open the Chinese market while Japan-brand products are still strongly connected with high levels of safety and quality.”