Korean cosmetics maker opens foreigner-friendly store for K-pop loving tourists

The renovated Olive Young store in the Myeongdong district of Seoul. (Photo: Heejin Kim/Bloomberg)
The renovated Olive Young store in the Myeongdong district of Seoul. (Photo: Heejin Kim/Bloomberg)

By Heejin Kim

(Bloomberg) — Foreign tourists wanting to replicate the looks of their favourite K-pop stars and South Korean actors have helped spur a meteoric rise in sales at cosmetics retailer CJ Olive Young Corp.

Revenue at the company’s six stores in the luxury Myeongdong shopping district in central Seoul surged 840% so far this year from the first 10 months of last year, the retailer said as it opened its first shop specialised for foreign tourists.

The two-story, 1,157 square metre (12,453 square feet) outlet has English-language price tags, staff who speak English, Japanese and Chinese, a duty-free service, and a QR code that links to an English map of the store.

“Recently, we have had more visitors coming from countries outside China, such as South Asia, the US and Japan,” said Yoo Hanvit, an official at CJ Olive Young. “They have a lot of interest in learning the make-up of K-pop artists, such as lipsticks and eye shadow.”

The decision to open the tourist-friendly store came after the company found more than 80% of its 3,000 daily visitors were foreigners, Yoo said.

Compared to Chinese tourists who usually buy cosmetics in bulk at duty-free stores or department stores, these customers are looking for cheaper Korean cosmetic brands rather than expensive big-name brands, CJ says.

“I think South Korean cosmetics are more various than Japanese ones, especially for lipsticks, which have more colors than I can find in Japan,” said Miyu, a 23-year-old Japanese tourist who was browsing the store. She is a fan of K-pop girl band Aespa, and said their beauty inspired her to try Korean cosmetics.

Korean skincare products, including whitening lotions, are more varied than European brands, said Thera de Haas, a 69-year-old tourist from the Netherlands who was looking at mascaras. She’s a fan of Korean television dramas like "Crash Landing on You", in which a South Korean heiress ends up in North Korea after a paragliding accident.

South Korea welcomed about 1.1 million foreign visitors in September, up 225% from a year earlier, and reaching around 75% of pre-pandemic levels, according to data from the Korea Tourism Organisation.

While visitors from Japan, the US, the Middle East, Europe and South Asia have recovered to nearly 90% of pre-pandemic levels, arrivals from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan are still around half of 2019 levels, the data showed.

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