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Japanese tourists snap up Myeong-dong cosmetics

[Glimpse of Business in Seoul 45th in the series: Myeong-dong Cosmetics Street]

May 05,2009
Customers try on makeup at the Nature Republic store in Myeong-dong, central Seoul, last weekend.
Yoko Wada, 22, had stacked eight tubs of blemish balm cream in her shopping cart at a cosmetics store in Myeong-dong, central Seoul last week, but was contemplating adding a couple more.

“Whenever I come to Korea, I buy around 10 BB creams and refrigerate them so I can use them over a year or so,” Wada said at a Hanskin branch on the main street of Myeong-dong, across from the downtown branch of Lotte Department Store.

She certainly wasn’t the only tourist in Myeong-dong grabbing armfuls of cosmetic products to take back home.

Last weekend, most of the cosmetics shops along the main road running through Myeong-dong were filled with the sound of Japanese women emptying the shelves of their favorite creams and lotions.

Around 30 of these cosmetics shops are spread across the Myeong-dong shopping area between the subway station and Shinsegae and Lotte department stores, where inexpensive local cosmetics brands are sold.

These brands include Etude House, Missha, Skin Food, Innisfree and The Face Shop.

Others like Todacosa and Aritaum feature foreign and local brands. More recently, select shops have been featuring premium organic skin care lines from local and overseas companies.

These include Ontree and Yves Rocher, alongside British makeup brands like The Body Shop and Lush, which have been gaining in popularity since the 1990s thanks to their mid-priced skin care and makeup products.

“Myeong-dong reveals all that Korea has to offer in terms of makeup and skin care,” said Kim Tae-hyung, manager of the Myeong-dong branch of Nature Republic, a local cosmetics brand launched in late March.

The company currently has eight branches nationwide but the Myeong-dong branch is by far the biggest.

It draws an average of around 2,500 to 3,000 visitors per day and average daily sales of around 20 million won ($15,720) on weekdays and 25 million won to 30 million won on weekends.

Customers look around the Nature Republic main branch in Myeong-dong, central Seoul last weekend. The company launched its first store in Myeong-dong at the end of March this year. By Oh Sang-min
“During the Rain concert we raised 9 million won in sales in just two hours,” Kim said, referring to a live performance by the musical artisits, the company’s main spokesman model last month.

The SE cosmetics shops started opening during the late 1990s and early 2000s. One of the first was Todacosa, a local shop for cosmetics stocking foreign and local brands such as L’Oreal, Vov and Clio, back in August 2000.

The Body Shop’s first Korean branch opened in Myeong-dong in March 1997. The Face Shop, with two branches in the district, opened its first in 2003 and the second the following year. Etude House has five branches in Myeong-dong, the first opening in August 2005.

“The department stores, local restaurants, theaters and clothing malls in Myeong-dong have a long history as major tourist destinations, and it’s only natural that cosmetics companies decided to open branches here,” said Kim Yoon-mi, a tour guide for a small local tour company.

During recent years, the area has seen a rapid growth in the number of Asian tourists, especially from Japan. Last year a record number of Japanese tourists visited due to the depreciation of the local currency against the yen.

This year growth continues: 855,448 Japanese tourists visited Korea during the first quarter, according to the Korea Immigration Service, 25 percent more than during the same time last year.

Among all visitors during Q1 this year, around 48 percent were Japanese, most of whom were Myeong-dong customers. Nature Republic’s Kim said that around 80 percent of customers in April were from Japan. At The Face Shop’s two Myeong-dong branches, employees are trained to speak basic Japanese and Chinese.

A sales promoter at The Face Shop branch in Myeong-dong, central Seoul, calls out to tourists last weekend with the store’s sales event info written in Japanese, beside posters of Bae Yong-joon, the company’s spokesman and model.
“At least one store guide per branch and one sales employee has lived in Japan or China and can speak the languages fluently,” said Seo Hui-ju, a manager at The Face Shop. “At our two Myeong-dong branches, 80 percent of our customers are from overseas.”

Information boards written in Japanese are posted outside most of the cosmetics shops and the companies have various other services catering to foreign customers.

“In two of our Myeong-dong branches, we opened ‘Etude House Avenue,’ in which we provide Japanese language guides to help with cosmetics shopping and booklets introducing our products,” said Park Sung-eun, a employee at Etude’s marketing team. “Also in these branches, we have a contract with the Japanese credit card company JBC. Customers can also pay in yen if they like.”

The usual tour for Japanese visitors is a trip to either Lotte or Shinsegae department store, a meal at one of the Korean noodle and dumpling places on Myeong-dong’s main shopping street and then a spin through the cosmetics shops.

The most popular makeup item for Japanese tourists is BB creams. They have grown in popularity over the past two years after Korean celebrities openly praised the quality of the products. Other popular items are inexpensive eyeshadow, mask packs, mascara and lip gloss from mid-to-low range local cosmetics companies like The Face Shop, Etude House and Missha.

The brands have cast hallyu, or Korean Wave, stars as their spokesmen and models, including Bae Yong-joon and Kwon Sang-woo.

“I just bought a Louis Vuitton bag at Shinsegae,” said Akiko Mamoto, 33, who was visiting Korea during her holiday weekend last week.

“With the money to buy 10 mascara from Missha in Korea, I can only buy one in Japan,” she said.

“Shopping in Dongdaemun and Myeong-dong alone pays for my trip because of all the inexpensive, high-quality products I take back with me.”


By Cho Jae-eun [jainnie@joongang.co.kr]



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