South Korea flag South Korea: Buying and Selling

The distribution network in South Korea

Evolution of the Sector
Retail sales in South Korea increased by 11.3% in 2021 compared to 2020, due to the sharp increase in online sales following the coronavirus pandemic. According to the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy, combined sales of 25 major offline and online retailers reached KRW 12.19 trillion in February 2022. Traditional retail distribution networks of small family-run stores, stalls in markets and street vendors are being replaced by large discount stores. During the Covid-19 pandemic, offline shops continued to lose ground. Convenience stores were the only winners, while department stores and supermarkets sales dropped. In 2021, as the economy started to recover from the pandemic, department store sales rebounded by 24.1% and sales at convenience store chains climbed 6.8%. Sales in supermarkets fell by 2.3% due to a reduction in the
number of stores, as well as consumer tendencies of avoiding publicly used facilities (South Korea Ministry of Commerce).

As consumers take to the internet to purchase products out of convenience, they are also showing a similar trend in store-based retailing by frequenting convenience stores. In Korea, the high convenience store density suggests that convenience stores are highly accessible and thus have become favoured by consumers looking to quickly pick up some grocery items. Also, convenience stores aggressively developed creative products and services in order to attract frequent consumer visits to the outlets.

As internet retailing becomes one of the strongest retailing channels in South Korea, retail grocery companies have engaged in omni-channel strategies that cater to online shoppers. One such measure is click and collect, whereby consumers can pick up the items they ordered online via pick-up stations in the outlets.

Rapid expansion of large-scale businesses over the years has heightened the competitive pressure in the Korean retail sector. As a result, leading players have actively pursued merger and acquisition (M&A) opportunities to achieve bigger control of the market. Leading retail companies in Korea today have become a "conglomerate" power that operates retail businesses in diverse retail industry segments.
Market share
According USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, Korean retail food sales totaled $103 billion in 2020 (latest data available), accounting for 29% of total retail sales. Grocery supermarkets are the leading food retail channel, followed by hypermarket discount stores, convenience stores, on-line retailers, and department stores. The Korean market is concentrated.
Grocery supermarkets were the main food retail channel, with 39.3 trillion won in food sales in 2020, followed by hypermarkets (17.2 trillion won) and convenience stores (13.6 trillion Won).
Hanaro Mart, Lotte Super, GS Supermarket are among the leading supermarkets if we consider the number of shops. The major hypermarkets are EMART, Home Plus, Lotte Mart and COSTCO. Finally, CU, GS25 and Seven Eleven are the largest convenience stores.
Retail Sector Organisations
Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy

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Latest Update: April 2024

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