TOKYO -- Chinese are discovering they don't have to travel to buy products from abroad.
But traveling is kind of fun, anyway. A 25-year-old from Wuhan, Hubei Province, flew to Japan for the first time in September. She stayed for a week, visiting Tokyo, Shizuoka and Kyoto prefectures. Along the way, she bought a bunch of skin care products, clothes and other stuff. She shopped at drugstores, department stores and at a large outlet mall.
She spent roughly 200,000 yen ($1,636) -- 2.6 times more than her monthly pay. She saved about half of her monthly salary of 4,000 yuan ($617) every month to go to Japan.
According to the Japan Tourism Agency, Chinese tourists dropped a total of 1.1 trillion yen for the first nine months of the year, 2.6 times more than a year earlier. Their per-person spending on goods such as souvenirs came to 140,000 yen, much higher than the 50,000 yen range for Taiwanese and Thai visitors, and higher still than the 30,000 yen or less that South Koreans and Americans typically spend
Bolome is one of China's e-commerce companies that have noticed this explosive spending and decided to tap into it. In Chinese, bolome refers to a kind of wizardry that can teleport a person from one place to another in a blink.
Bolome allows shoppers to buy things from Japan at the same prices as in Japan. Chinese consumers seem to like the teleportation service. Dietary and health supplements often sell out, Bolome co-founder Yuya Mizuno said.
Essentially, Chinese are beginning to do their own importing, bringing countless goods into their country through various routes. An Alibaba Group Holding platform or an overseas e-tailer might handle the transaction.
Average earnings in China continue to grow. The annual salary of Beijing dwellers averaged 103,000 yuan in 2014, almost double the figure of five years' earlier. And since more Chinese now have access to cash from property or other investments, as well as from unofficial sources, their earnings appear to have grown at a much faster pace than that of their nominal pay.
Plenty of them seem to be in a spending mood. But they are finicky: They want foreign-made goods. "Currently, about 40 million Chinese, unable to find what they want at home, are buying foreign items," said Ren Xiaoyu, CEO of e-commerce company SF Haitao, a unit of Shunfeng Express, China's leading logistics service. Ren expects the trend to keep snowballing.
There are benefits when consumers do their own importing. For one, customs procedures are easier. So far, Chinese authorities have kept silent about the practice, though some point out that importing goods as an individual, even when going through an e-tailer, can fall into a legal gray zone.
But it is not a behavior that would be easy to control, should the Chinese government ever want to. On the other hand, were the government to try lower the price of foreign goods by reducing tariffs, Chinese makers would suffer from the added competition. Such a move could also discourage foreign businesses from continuing to use Chinese factories, especially now that Chinese labor is no longer considered cheap.