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Consumer Trends for Korea in 2019

#Key Business Issue l 2019-01-07

Business Watch

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Last year, terms like “small but certain happiness” and “work-life balance” were embraced my many in Korea. This reflects a growing desire among people to enjoy the here and now, rather than seek out big ideas or ambitious dreams. 


So then, what could possibly excite consumers this year? Today, we’ll discuss 2019 trends that deserve attention with Jeon Mi-young(전미영), a researcher at Seoul National University’s Consumer Trends Analysis Center. The center puts out a consumer trend outlook every year.


Consumer trends in 2019 can be surmised by the term “PIGGY DREAM”. Traditionally, the pig is regarded as a symbol of good luck and fortune in Korea. Even today, Koreans often buy lottery tickets if they spot a pig in their dreams. Of course, it is a mere superstition unique to this part of the world.


Still, we chose “PIGGY DREAM” as the catchphrase in the hopes that many Koreans will be lucky in the year ahead, just as if they have an auspicious dream of a pig. 


“PIGGY DREAM” is an acronym of 10 consumer trends, including “Play the Concept” and “Invite to the Cell Market.” While the term is a combination of English words, it reflects Koreans’ longstanding belief in the symbolism of the animal, which means wealth and abundance. 


This year, in particular, seems to be more special, as Koreans celebrate the Year of the “Golden Pig” that comes around just once every 60 years. There are hopes that dreaming of a pig in the Year of the Golden Pig will bring prosperity and success along with it.  And these hopes my provide opportunities to businesses. 


“Play the Concept” is the first consumer trend in Korea in 2019. These days, people want more than just mere consumption. When having a riverside picnic along the Han River, for example, people do not simply grab a bite or run there unprepared. Rather, they pack a picnic basket, spread a nice mat on the grass, and enjoy their time. Some even spread out flowers and create a scene straight out of a movie. Businesses may pay attention to products catering to these concepts.


In the past, consumption was mostly an exercise in practicality. But nowadays, consumers pay more attention to concepts or themes that enhance their personal experience.


When taking a picture, for instance, many consumers consider how impressive a particular location will appear on social media when deciding where to go. For the digital generation that is accustomed to enjoying their own personal preferences, products and services with distinct concepts are key to generating spending in this generation


It seems the market is transforming itself to better meet rising demand for individualized and customer-specific products. Jeon explains the second trend, “Invite to the Cell Market.” 


Anyone, celebrities or otherwise, will be able to sell anything through their own sales channels like blogs or Instagram accounts without being affiliated with online shopping sites or brick-and-mortar stores. This new class of consumers is referred to as “sellsumers,” a combination of “sell” and “consumers.” We call these emerging distribution channels the “cell market.” 


The number of sellsumers is small for now, but more and more individual consumers, like multiplying cells, will operate their own personal markets to usher in an era of one-person online markets. 


The cell market is a new term indicating a market being split into numerous personal markets, just as a single cell divides to form new cells. 


The ever-growing influence of online activities gave rise to the cell market. Previously, distributors supplied goods only to brick-and-mortar stores. But today, as online distribution services are expanding, anyone can open online stores and sell products and services.


Some social media influencers trade goods online individually and run pop-up stores in collaboration with department stores or home shopping channels, thus leading to the development of one-person markets.


Jeon now explains another trend that is expected to remain hot in 2019. 


We coined a new word “newtro,” a mixture of “new” and “retro.” The return of 1990s’ fashion styles may bring back memories for older generations, who find it quite retro. But the same old styles offer a whole new feeling for young people who weren’t even around then. “Newtro” is a concept that mixes trends of the past with fresh interpretations to win over young people in their teens and 20s.  

Hot places in Seoul include the Hongdae area, Itaewon, Gangnam and Jamsil. But Euljiro is an increasingly popular place for teens and 20-somethingsWhile older generations think that the rundown neighborhood needs to be redeveloped, young people embrace Euljiro’s unique atmosphere, comparing it to Hong Kong. In other words, they perceive the same district completely differently. The Euljiro area is a good example of the newtro trend.


Rather than reviving past objects or styles as they were, young people reinterpret them to fit their modern tastes. This is called Newtro. 


Newtro has been embraced in many ways. Vinyl records are enjoying surging popularity. Clunky outfits from the 1980s can be spotted in the trendiest parts of Seoul. And powdered milk, years after it disappeared from vending machines and convenience stores, can be seen on shelves again. Another good example of newtro is the growing popularity of the Euljiro neighborhood, one of the older parts of Seoul that is enjoying a revival.


Some places have been transformed in a way to suit different situations, beyond their original purposes. “Rebirth of Place” is another trend that merits attention in 2019. 


With an increasing number of consumers purchasing goods online, offline stores struggle to stay afloat. Some pessimistically describe the phenomenon as the demise of the retail business. 


To overcome the difficulty, many offline shops are expected to explore changes in 2019. They may bring together a bookstore and a coffee shop, or a bookstore and a bank. Department stores could change their traditional layout. For example, replace cosmetics on the first floor with large restaurantsand create kids cafés on the second floor.


Places that are eager to transform themselves to fulfill different purposes are called “chamelezones,” as chameleons change color according to their surroundings. 


These fresh changes can be found in local department stores, including Lotte Department Store in Ansan and Hyundai Department Store in Cheonho-dong, eastern Seoul. In another example, Emart24, a chain of convenience stores, has recently taken over two cafés at the south end of Dongjak Bridge. The multi-floor stores host a bookstore and a convenience store, all with a great view of the river and its surroundings. It has attracted many people and I think it is a must-visit spot. 


In an era where the axis of consumption has shifted to online from offline, these transformable zones are expected to breathe new life into the offline retail business. 


Other trends for Korea in 2019 include “Green Survival,” “Data Intelligence,” “You are my Proxy Emotion,” “As being Myself,” “Emerging Millennial Family” and “Manner Maketh the Consumer.” “Green Survival” advocates environmentally-friendly consumption, and “Data Intelligence” means that machines can use big data to read consumer trends and preferences. 


“As being Myself” values one’s own identity higher than how other people perceive the person. In a “Millennial Family,” meanwhile, young mothers no longer sacrifice themselves for their kids. “Manner Maketh the Consumer” seeks a balance between workers and consumers. 


Around this time, analysts typically produce a variety of market projections for the upcoming year. We’ll have to wait and see which trends will prevail in Korean society and how industries will react to the changing needs of consumers.

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