China’s online scalpers leverage e-commerce skills to earn money

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 January, 2017, 7:37pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 January, 2017, 10:52pm

An unlikely beneficiary of China’s Internet Plus strategy may be scalpers who are using online technologies to make money.

Anecdotal evidence shows that a rising number of young mainland Chinese, some of whom already have jobs, are using online purchases to nab products coveted by cash-rich residents, ranging from iPhones to concert tickets.

But their goal is not to own the items themselves, but resell them to die hard fans at a premium.

“Internet Plus strategy is a great strategy,” said Zhu Xiaoni, 30, a Shanghai white-collar worker who also conducts online scalping. “If you have a good command of the skills for online shopping you can make easy extra money.”

Zhu has a faith in the proverb that goes: Early birds catch the worms.

When Apple’s iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus hit stores in China on September 16, Zhu woke up early and jumped onto the internet.

“In a digitised era, you don’t bother to rush to the stores and queue up for the first batch of iPhones,” she said. “You use your nimble hands to grab them online.”

Despite limited supply during the initial sales of the trendy new smartphones, Zhu and her husband, a state-owned company employee, managed to successfully secure one iPhone 7 Plus.

Zhu advertised the “trophy” on WeChat, Tencent’s instant messaging service, before selling it to an enthusiastic iPhone fan for 8,000 yuan, 800 yuan more than the retail price.

Some wealthy mainlanders who can’t afford the time to queue up for commodities they strongly desire are willing to pay a premium to own them.

In a digitised era, you don’t bother to rush to the stores and queue up for the first batch of iPhones,
Zhu Xiaoni, Shanghai white-collar worker

Products that are in severe short supply also create opportunities for people like Zhu who are moonlighting as scalpers.

In fact, they don’t feel uncomfortable being called “scalper” and give a credit to their nimble hands and sharp minds.

“It’s not an easy job. In many cases there are just few fish in a big pond,” she said. “You have to react very quickly, on the spur of the moment, to successfully secure the products.”

Tickets for Shanghai concerts staged by Hong Kong pop singer Jacky Cheung Hok-yau sold out a few minutes after online ticket bookings opened.

On the black market, a ticket with face value of 680 yuan now tops 1,400 yuan.

“The internet has changed people’s lifestyle, and more big changes will take place,” said Joe Zhou, another online scalper who lives in Shanghai. “It looks like your skills and experience in e-commerce can create added value for you and your family.”

The Chinese leadership has been calling on businesses to better use internet technologies such as big data, cloud computing and artificial intelligence to improve efficiency in manufacturing and commerce.

However, there is no reporting mechanism on the mainland to gauge the size of the online scalping business.

“But businesses and investment funds shouldn’t underestimate the potential of it,” said Yang Xiaodong, chief executive of Greenland Financial Services. “It’s a lifestyle that a group of youngsters choose to pursue and it’s likely to be a big trend.”