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Here’s some food for thought: what if someone in Shanghai offered you a tasty fee to buy a slice of cake in Hong Kong and bring it back across the mainland border for them?

Sound like a piece of cake?

Well, it was a relatively easy way to make a fast buck until the Shanghai border authorities stepped in and warned that this particular form of daigou – or contract buying – is strictly off limits.

Daigou is a Mandarin term (pronounced ‘dye-go’ in English) for the common Chinese practice of buying goods abroad “on somebody else’s behalf” and bringing them back into China in return for a fee. Normally, the advantage of the system is that buyers are getting a much lower price – even with the (often significant) daigou charge factored in – for products ranging from infant formula to designer handbags.

However, in this slightly unusual case, price wasn’t the issue.

The problem was the intolerable queues sweet-toothed Shanghai residents were faced with at their new branch of Lady M, the New York-based luxury cake maker. Unwilling to line up for hours at the hugely popular outlet in IFC Mall, but prepared to pay well over the odds for the much sought-after gateaux and pastries, they turned to daigoufor help.

So keen were they to get their hands on – or teeth into – the famous patisserie’s produce, they would pay between 65 yuan (US$10) to 80 yuan per slice for the privilege of having their dessert brought over from Hong Kong. That’s roughly the cost of the cake itself.

Even with such a steep premium the daigou cake service was, for many, an attractive alternative to waiting in line for hours. Hong Kong has two Lady M outlets, one in Causeway Bay and one in Tsim Sha Tsui.

The tactic had become popular since Lady Ma opened in Shanghai in early September and became an instant hit, with eager throngs of customers jostling to be served.

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