Korean retailers ride wave of K-pop and TV dramas into Hong Kong

Growth of shops selling Korean wares in the city is testament to the country's popularity

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 May, 2014, 2:47pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 May, 2014, 6:40am

Long queues outside Korean fried chicken restaurants and the emergence of more outlets for skincare and cosmetics brands from South Korea are testament to the inroads the country's firms are making into Hong Kong's retail industry.

South Korean retailers opening shops in prime shopping streets last year took up 4.17 per cent of Hong Kong's new leases, property consultancy CBRE said.

Six South Korean stores opened in Hong Kong in this year's first quarter, three times the number in last year's first quarter.

"A few years ago, we started seeing more Korean skincare and cosmetics brands, such as Missha and Laneige, coming to Hong Kong. The trend is speeding up," said Joe Lin, a senior director of retail services at CBRE.

"TV dramas and K-pop are the catalysts boosting demand for Korean cosmetics, gadgets and food in Hong Kong and the Asian market in general," Lin said.

Hong Kong youngsters are eager to copy the lifestyle of Korean singers and artists: from their eating habits to the way they wear their make-up.

In My Love From the Star, a romantic comedy about a Korean actress and her extraterrestrial boyfriend, the show's main character is crazy for fried chicken with beer.

That led to the opening of several fried chicken restaurants in Hong Kong, according to Lin.

Shops selling South Korean cosmetics lines catering to the young, such as Etude House, Innisfree, The Saem and Nature Republic, opened in the city in the past two years.

"They look for shops in young and trendy districts, such as Sai Yeung Choi Street in Mong Kok, Lockhart Road in Causeway Bay and Granville Road in Tsim Sha Tsui. The shop size required is about 500-1,000 square foot," Lin said.

He said gadgets, cosmetics, food and media culture are pioneering South Korea's push into the Asian market, and its fashion brands will follow.

"Some Korean fashion brands are talking to us about their expansion plans in Hong Kong," Lin said.

He said the trend reminded him of Japan's cultural invasion of Hong Kong 30 years ago. Since the 1980s, Japanese brands ranging from cosmetics and electronics to fashion have been popular in the city.

Coils Lam, chairman of CEC International, also noticed the trend towards things Korean.

When CEC established the 759 Kawaiiland chain, which sells personal care and beauty products at competitive prices, about five months ago, he did not expect South Korean products to be its top-selling items.

"But when we started selling electric face cleansing brushes two months ago, we noticed that the demand for Korean goods was huge," Lam said.

"We sold more than we expected: more than 10,000 pieces in the past two months."

Now South Korean products account for more than 30 per cent of the chain's merchandise, with the rest mainly from Japan.

Lam said CEC would open 13 more stores by the end of this year in addition to the seven it has now.

Tom Gaffney, head of retail at JLL Hong Kong, said a clustering effect would occur from the invasion of Korean brands.

"The biggest beneficiaries have been districts such as Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui, and to a lesser extent Mong Kok, as typical melting pots for a wide range of cosmetics products and fashion types," Gaffney said.