Shopping for items from Hstyle collection. Photo: courtesy of Hstyle.
Turning shopping into a career sounds like a dream job for many fashion lovers. For Sun Jing, a fashion retail buyer and the owner of a Taobao shop, this dream became a reality.
Sun began posting articles about shopping in 2005 when she was still a university student. Dubbed "professor Vivi" on many fashion forums, Sun shared tips on how to find cheap, quality clothes in low-priced wholesale markets and how to mix and match outfits.
Years later, after publishing two books about her shopping experience, Sun opened her own online shop on Taobao.
China's largest online retailer, Taobao.com, hosts a large number of individual online stores that sell items at bargain prices. Behind the e-commerce boom is the flourishing of relevant industries like street photographers and fashion buyers.
"I am not a buyer in the way people usually interpret the job," said Sun. She explained that the common impression of a buyer is to travel abroad to purchase high-end fashion items or pieces from established brands while doing the majority of shopping domestically, targeting the mass market.
Hobby turned job
Initially, Sun just wanted to share her experience of shopping. She found that even in low-priced wholesale market, it was possible to find quality products from well-known brands.
"Some of the products should have been sold at a high price in big shopping malls. But for some reason, they were distributed directly from the factory and were thus selling at low prices," said Sun.
Successful at treasure hunting in several markets in Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin, Sun transformed from an experienced shopper to a professional buyer who not only shops for herself but coaches other women.
After being recognized by many online fashion lovers, Sun became a regular face on several television shows and magazines. Her popularity expanded beyond the Internet.
Sun told the Global Times that for fashion buyers, actively participating in conversations on big fashion forums builds up a reputation in the industry. Setting up a shop came naturally after these steps and preparations.
However, starting up a business is not easy. Many people do not have the budget or experience to open their own shops. Some choose to become a fashion buyer for existing companies.
"There are many professional buyers on Taobao now, since not everyone has the finances and resources to set up their own shop," said Li Xiaona, 27, a professional buyer at Hstyle, a large B2C fashion retailer whose official website has an average of 1 million visitors a day.
Established in 2008, the company focusing on South Korean fashion trends now has over 1,200 employees, including 300 buyers.
Li studied fashion design at university. After graduating, she entered the fashion industry as a designer. She later found that being a buyer was a more rewarding and suitable profession for her.
As Hstyle focuses on South Korean style, the main resources come from South Korean fashion websites. Li's job is to scout out suitable items from these sources.
Liu Wei, 25, also a professional buyer at Hstyle, told the Global Times that he regularly visits about 40 South Korean websites a day to choose about 10 outfits for further selection.
Senior managers make the final purchasing decisions, for two to three items from each buyer every day.
Research and development
Hstyle promotes almost 60 new items a day and an estimated 1,200 new pieces each month to ensure that 85 percent of the store consists of new arrivals.
The large workload is supported by professional buyer groups where each buyer has a different task, from selecting fashion items, assisting, marketing, stock managing to office work.
Chen Xin, the public relation director of Hstyle told the Global Times that online buyers differ from traditional retail buyers, because the former do not have specific procedures. The way they work differs from shop to shop.
"They are like the research and development department," said Chen, referring to how buyers find and create suitable products.
"The method our buyers use is very fast but not suitable for shops with a strong individual style," Chen said.
She finds that while taste and a sense of fashion are important, understanding the market is vital.
Hstyle, for instance, has many distribution platforms including 360buy, Amazon, Taobao and other domestic online retailers.
"The majority of our target consumers on 360buy are based in North China. Their taste is different from our target consumers on Taobao, who are mainly located in East China, including Zhejiang, Jiangsu provinces and Shanghai. Buyers should not only be fashion hunter but also market analysts," said Chen.
Shopping as a profession is not as easy as people think. Though satisfied with their job, Liu and Li both face pressures.
Li said that with more people entering this field, competition is increasing. It is difficult to make the optimal choice in all aspects, from production and marketing.
For Liu, having a grasp on fashion is far from enough. He hopes to acquire more professional experience in the market.
Sun said that consumers often set high expectations for her shop.
"They think it is normal to pay five yuan to buy an item worth 500 yuan ($90) in my shop, but it is not the case."
Nevertheless, this is still a prospective and ideal job for young people.
"Buyers for online business are relatively young since the target market is also young," said Liu, suggesting that a developing business model provides increasing career opportunities to the younger generation.
For Sun, results are obviously, as she has gained fame, friends, and fans all the way through.