Here’s how to earn extra while you travel

Cai Li would often accede to his girlfriend's requests to buy beauty products or local food on his travels, and then he realized he could provide this service for others and make money from it too.

In Li's case, being an obliging boyfriend sparked off a business concept to help consumers get their hands on that country-exclusive item or to save on shipping costs.

Singapore-based tech startup Airfrov enables shoppers to get items from around the world by connecting them to one of the service's registered travelers, who don't mind shopping to earn some money.

According to Airfrov research, 80 percent of shoppers still rely on friends or family who travel overseas to purchase products that might be cheaper or exclusively in a particular country.

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"We are trying to formalize an existing behavior," said Cai Li, co-founder of Airfrov, to CNBC in an email interview.

"We act as a platform for users to fulfill their demands, and break down barriers of inaccessibility, price disparities, and exorbitant shipping costs."

Shoppers would post product details, the country and how much they were willing to pay on Airfrov's request webpage. Once the request has been accepted by an Airfrov-registered traveler, the shopper would have to pay a deposit that is held by the company. The higher the amount the shopper is willing to pay on top of retail price, the faster and more likely the request will get picked up.

The company generates revenue by charging a service fee of 7 percent per transaction.

Why the fuss?

Some of the more popular requests are for items from Japan,such as limited edition Starbucks tumblers available only in retail outlets,and the Tokyo Banana – a popular Japanese pastry with a short shelf life.

There are also requests for travelers bound for Hong Kong to purchase the Apple Watch, which has not been released for sale in Singapore yet.

Li shares that in spite of international shipping and freight forwarders, there would be a demand for Airfrov's service because there are shipping bans on certain brands in Singapore, and products that have not been launched in Singapore.

Exorbitant shipping costs and long waiting time can also be avoided by using Airfrov's services, he added.

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Airfrov user Tess Halim told CNBC in an interview that although she was initially skeptical the service would work, her Tokyo Banana arrived in less than a week. She paid about 10 Singapore dollars (US$7) more than the Japanese retail price for the delicacy.

But would travelers go through the hassle of running someone else's shopping errand?

"I know so many people who buy things requested by friends or family when they go overseas, I think this would be a fun way to shop vicariously and profit from it," said a local airline cabin crew staff, who declined to be named because her company has a policy that forbids employees from speaking to the media.

Regulations and risks

However, as with any new innovative service, Airfrov not exempt from risks or potential regulatory setbacks.

"Airfrov's service is about 'buying on behalf of' and because of this, [users] should be mindful of potential liability implications," said Eugene Ho, consumer business industry leader at Deloitte Southeast Asia, told CNBC.

Singapore levies a goods and services tax (GST) on all goods brought into the country. Tax relief is only valid for goods valued above 600 Singapore dollars (US$444) held by travelers away for more than 48 hours, and 150 Singapore dollars (US$111) for travelers who are away for less than 48 hours.

Failure to declare goods could result in fines of up to 10,000 Singapore dollars (US$7,408) or imprisonment for up to three years.

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Also, the onus is on the traveler to ensure that they are not carrying a Singapore-restricted item, or contraband. Deloitte's Ho also warned that some products bought overseas might not have their warranties honored in Singapore.

It is too early to determine the startup's success as it only launched officially this January, but Li said Airfrov is focused on enhancing user engagement and growing its user base to target savvy shoppers and deal-hunters.

"With the current projections, we believe that Airfrov can be profitable in the next year," said Li.