What Online Retailers Need to Know About South Korea

When a new Korean TV series, My Love from the Star, began airing in 2013, young South Koreans rushed to buy clothes and beauty products adorned by the show's pop stars. French fashion retailer Yves Saint Laurent's No. 52 lipstick sold out globally, and orders for items like backpacks and trench coats surged after making an appearance on the program.

Pop culture sells in South Korea, a country where information travels fast — thanks to fast, cheap Internet — and Koreans nurture their well-documented obsession with luxury and high-quality foreign goods.

South Korea is the most connected place on earth, with nearly 80% of the country's population of 49 million people online, helping to pave the way for a cross-border ecommerce boom. More than three-quarters of Koreans own smartphones, enabling quick, convenient online purchases.

As Asia's fourth-largest economy in 2014, there is ample upside in the South Korean marketplace, which was Borderfree's No. 10 market last year by sales volume. Economics are strong: GDP is forecast to gain 4% this year, and the South Korean won hit a six-year high in April. In 2013, cross-border spending rose 47% to about $1 billion, according to Korea Customs Service.

Here are the three things every retailer needs to know about South Korea:

1. South Koreans frequently visit and study in the US, exposing them to US brands and highlighting the dramatic cost savings available from buying abroad. However, language is still a significant barrier to comfort and conversion — and translated content is strongly encouraged.

2. Three-quarters of Koreans own smartphones; a dynamic mobile marketing and commerce strategy is essential for retailers looking to reach Koreans.

3. Koreans are highly responsive to online sales; they have money to spend and are swayed by bargains — meaning deals posted in online communities can go viral fast.

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Borderfree is a market leader in international cross-border ecommerce solutions, operating a technology and services platform that the world's most iconic brands rely on to expand globally and transact with customers in more than 100 countries and territories and more than 60 currencies worldwide. Through its research team, Borderfree provides partner retailers with actionable, data-driven insights on international ecommerce and shopping behaviors in key markets around the world.