Everything You Need to Know About South Korean Consumers – Best Tips

South Korea has powerful industries in mobile, automotive, beauty, fashion, entertainment, and technology.  They got to this level because of their massive workforce that has usually put career over family.  The average Korean worker works about 70 hours a week.  It got so bad that the Korean government lowered its maximum working hours down to 52 hours.  This was done to change the Korean working culture and to have a better work-life balance.  Therefore recently South Korean consumers have more time to spend their hard-earned income.  Furthermore, Korea makes for an ideal market for global brands because of their open-minded youth culture and their love of the West.

Global Brands in Korea

Global brands are embraced in Korea more than ever.  From Apple to Shake Shack, western brands are seen all around Seoul.  However, there are key differences between South Korean Consumers and Western/European Consumers.  Here is a breakdown of everything you need to know about the average South Korean Consumer.

South Korean ConsumersMarketers take into account every countries culture, habits, and behaviors.  Korea has been known to be a shy and quiet culture that puts importance on family and respect above all. The economy of South Korea is the 4th largest in Asia and the 11th largest in the world.  A large portion of their economy is made up of the middle class that has a lot of disposable income.  This is why South Korea has a lot of potential for global brands that want to break into the Asian market.  Korea is known as the trendsetter for Asia as a whole.  If it is a success in Korea, it is a pretty safe bet it will succeed all across Asia.

Ten tips when Marketing to South Korean Consumers

Tip #1 – Most South Korean Consumers do not speak English

This might be a bit shocking for a country where so much money and time is spent on teaching English to children.  However, many will be shocked that most Koreans do not speak English.  This does not mean they can’t, but rather won’t.  About 10% of the Korean population can speak some level of English.  Therefore, around 90% only speak Korean.

When entering the Korean market make sure you have a Korean translator or know a translation company in Korea that you can work with.  Messages can get lost in translation so it is important to check the content before it is released to make sure it is in line with your brand’s message.  Furthermore, try to use as many pictures and visuals as possible.  Avoid long texts and make sure your layout is easy to read and understand.

Tip #2 – South Korean Consumers use Naver, not Google.

When South Korean consumers do an online search, they will not use Google.  They will use Naver.  Therefore it is important to know what people are saying about your product or service on Naver blogs and cafes.  Therefore, pay close attention to Naver search engine results for your brands.  If you are a new brand and want to enter Korea, it is important to have content about your company on Naver.  This might require having a media site or blogger to write about your company.  The average South Korean consumer will not trust your company if they can’t find any information on it on Naver.  Yes, Naver is THAT important.

Tip #3 – South Korean Consumers are early adopters of tech

Koreans love the latest tech innovation and trends.  Proof can be seen with cryptocurrency.  Korea accounts for less than 1% of the world’s population but at one point 30% of all crypto trading took place in South Korea.  There was a statistic that 40% of all Korean male workers owned cryptocurrency at some point.  So why did South Korea embrace this new technology so quickly?  Korea is a very tech-savvy country.  Technology is a part of Korea’s national identity.  Samsung, LG, Naver, have paved the way for Koreas to quickly absorb the latest technology.  They do everything with their smartphones.  They order food, pay their bills, and shop.  Digitization is the future and Koreans know it.  This makes South Korea the ideal test market for any new device or service.

Close to 90% of the Korean population owns a smartphone and that number comes close to 99% when it comes to college students.  In addition, South Koreans are amongst the top users of credit cards online.  Online shopping has become the norm thanks to eCommerce sights like Coupang and G-Market.  It is estimated that Koreans will spend over $70 million in 2019 on online purchases.  This means the average Korean consumer will spend time online in researching and reviewing products and services before a purchase.  This is where social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram becomes so important for consumers, especially the younger generation.

Tip #4 – South Korean Consumers want special promotions and discounts

The average South Korean consumer wants to feel special.  They love being a VIP member.  They love accumulating points and getting rewards.  Most retail shops in Korea will offer some kind of rewards program.  In addition, most transactions are made using a credit card so rewards are associated with Korean banks.  Korean companies partner with Korean banks to offer discounts to the customers of that particular bank.  It is not uncommon for the average South Korean consumer to have 3-4 bank cards.  If you can’t partner with a Korean bank or a payment company, make sure you offer a rewards program to make the consumer feel like a VIP.

Tip #5 – South Korean Consumers use Social Media Platforms after Work

There is a small but important time gap to target South Korean consumers.  This is the time after work to the time they go to sleep.  The average Korean worker ends work at 8 pm.  This means that from 8 pm until midnight is the highest engagement timeframe.  During this 4 hour window, the average Korean worker will spend an average of 1 hour on their smartphone.  Therefore, when running ads on social media, make sure to target these times.  Koreans love playing mobile games on their phones.  The mobile gaming industry is huge in Korea, especially free to play games.  Try contacting Korean mobile gaming companies for advertising on their platform.

Tip #6 – South Koreans love their smartphones

South Korea is ranked #1 in terms of smartphone ownership.  The average Korean replaces their smartphone once every 2 years compared to 3 years for Americans.  94% of Korean adults own a smartphone and the other 6% just own a cellular phone, not necessarily a smartphone.  Therefore it is crucial for your brand to be mobile-friendly.  The use of mobile devices is everywhere in Korea.  On subways, in coffee shops, even in schools!  Over 60% of all e-commerce sales in Korea were made through smartphones.  Therefore make sure your website is optimized for mobile use.

Tip #7 – South Korea has the fastest internet connection

Everyone in Korea seems to have a smartphone.  This is because South Korea is home to the fastest internet connection on earth.  With 5G, it could get even quicker.  Koreans want things fast and demand smooth streaming.  If your app or website needs to load and run quickly.  Try to compress your images and upgrade your hosting to make sure you have the fastest load speed as possible.  Over 75% of South Koreans use internet media on a daily basis compared to 15%  that use paper media.

Tip #8 – In Korea everything is on-demand

Delivery in South Korea is like no other.  There is same-day delivery for all foods and products.  Once it is known your product or service is fast and easy, the customers themselves will generate interest using word of mouth or social media.  This desire for speed makes the average Korean consumer prone to always look for the latest gadget, idea, or trend.  Therefore make sure you are on e-commerce platforms like G-market and Coupang which offer same-day delivery.  There are delivery services in Korea that offer same-day delivery services as well.

Tip #9 – South Korean Consumers listen to social media influencers

Global brands need to work twice as hard compared to Korean brands because they need to convince Korean consumers to leave their country’s product or service for theirs.  The best and most efficient way to do this is with social media influencers.  Global brands need to reach out to one or two trusted and popular social influencers in their space.  Korean consumers will trust your brand because you’ve been endorsed by the influencer and not only that, you will automatically have a group of potential consumers right off the bat.  Getting these social media influencers is not easy, especially when you don’t speak Korean.  Make sure you have someone that not only speaks Korean but can be personable and can sell your product or service.

Most social media influencers in Korea focus on clothes, K-beauty, and accessories worn by actors or actresses on TV and film.  Or they feature the newest products released from major Korean brands.

Tip #10 – Embrace Korean Culture

Korean culture is beautiful.  Embrace it.  They might have a lot of rules and traditions you need to be aware of, but most Koreans are forgiving of foreigners.  When targeting Korean consumers try to be as polite as possible.  When writing in Korean use the right phrasing and appropriate form.  A naive Korean will know were texts will be appropriate and which will be offensive.  The saying of the customer is always right is doubled in Korea.  Customers in Korea are ALWAYS right and held in very high respect.  Therefore, especially in Korea, it is important to focus on your customer service.  Many companies in Korea have started to use Kakao and Telegram to deal with questions consumers might have about their product or service.

In Conclusion

Smartphone Use in South KoreaSouth Korean consumers are early adopters of the latest trends.  Therefore they are continuously changing.  This ability to adapt and try new things has made Korea into what it is today.  60 years ago Korea was one of the poorest countries in the world.  Now they are one of the top economic powerhouses.  The fast pace of development seems to have created a need in the average South Korean consumer to always seek out the next big thing.  This is one of the major reasons why Bitcoin was embraced in South Korea.

Partnering with Korean companies

The biggest competitors in Korea will always be the largest Korean firms.  They have big marketing budgets and influence in Korea that it makes it very difficult for big brands to break into the Korean market.  Think about it, many Koreans use Galaxy instead of an iPhone, they shop on G-Market rather than Amazon, and Uber?  Good luck finding an Uber in Seoul.  Therefore the only way to quickly find success in the Korean market is to partner with a large Korean company.  This is unless you are a tech company.  Many tech startups in Korea have found success, from E-commerce platform Coupang to gaming developer NCSoft, the tech industry in Korea has been booming.

The Korean government played a large role in creating a strong tech ecosystem in Korea.  So strong in fact that many are leaving their high paying Korean conglomerate jobs to start their own startup.  For foreign tech companies, partnering with a Korean startup is an easy way to break into the market.


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John

John is the Editor-in-Chief at Seoulz. He has covered the startup, tech & blockchain scene for media platforms Startup Radar and Seoul Space having written over 600 articles on Korea's blockchain and startup ecosystem. John has worked closely with The Ministry of SMEs and Startups as well as the Korea Foundation for the Advancement of Science and Creativity. Email him at john@seoulz.com

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