(2) By the mid-1990s, nearly 30 million people were directly involved in the shuttle trade, which had come to provide 75% of all the consumer goods in the Russian market.
The ambiguity of this shuttle trade firmly placed it in the framework of the so-called "grey market." As such, it would be a mistake to evaluate these peddling activities as a form of private entrepreneurship that is an integral part of all market economies (and the one which was emerging in post-Soviet space as well).
Because the source base of this grey market is limited and at times elusive, the author of this study has combined statistical reports on the scope and evolution of the shuttle trade with firsthand accounts of traders themselves.
The most interesting feature that emerged out of this research on the shuttle trade, based on a combination of fieldwork, statistical research, and scholarly analysis, is that approximately 80% of the participants in the shuttle trade were women.
Yet such parallels might mask the true scale of the shuttle trade of the 1980s and 1990s and many of its unique features.
At the same rate, the shuttle trade was not unique to the Soviet Union and the Newly Independent States (NIS); indeed, it existed in most countries of the (former) Soviet Bloc in the 1980s.
This is a story of the shuttle trade from a social and gendered perspective, the story of the role of women in peddling international consumer goods that coexisted with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The post-Soviet shuttle trade took peddlers to faraway places and remained a physically strenuous and risky enterprise.
In addition to various economic factors, we can identify a wide range of subjective factors related to commonly perceived gender roles that can help explain the high rate of female participation in the shuttle trade. At the onset of the trade, Soviet people's attitudes toward private business in general and resale in particular was negative, and traders who started off in this business in the 1980s almost universally acknowledged that they feared being recognized by their neighbors and friends.
Many shuttle traders mentioned that in the early stages of the shuttle trade, when the system of bribes and "protection" payments were not yet well-established and codified, women could successfully rely on normative gender roles when facing officials by claiming to be weak, unprotected, unfortunate single or abandoned mothers, forced into business to mitigate their harsh circumstances of life.
Women's evaluations of their experiences shed different light on the story of the shuttle trade, which would be incomplete with just an explanation of economic and social factors that prompted women to trade.
In the shuttle trade, the weight of the trader's bag was directly proportionate to the profit of the trade.