For some shoppers, luxe is worth the wait
An "open run" was Korea's term for the chaotic sprint to get into a store holding a tantalizing sale, like Black Friday in the U.S.
Today, open runs are daily events at high end stores around Seoul. They are less chaotic, more organized — and lucrative for almost everyone involved.
When the Korea JoongAng Daily visited Shinsegae Department Store's Gangnam branch in southern Seoul at 6 a.m. recently, there were already 17 people huddled in warm blankets, waiting in line to enter the Chanel boutique. The temperature was below minus 7 degrees Celcius, but the cold was no obstacle.
The first in line, a man in his twenties who didn’t want to give his name, said he arrived the previous night at 9 p.m.
Others were asleep on picnic mats and foldable chairs they brought along.
“I tried doing an open run to buy the Gabrielle Hobo bag and failed," said a women in her 30s who also didn’t wished to be named. “Shinsegae Department Store’s Gangnam branch hadn't stocked it for a while, so I tried coming here today.”
At 10 a.m., Chanel’s “Pad Man” appeared. He's called that because of his tablet PC, which he uses to register the people in line one by one. Rather than having people stampede through the store, he assigns numbers to the people in line, and they are called in one at a time.
There are 56 people in line waiting for numbers.
Open runs were not associated with luxury brands in the past, except when they had sales — which luxury tries to avoid except for VIPs — or when rumors swept Korea that prices of their favorite luxe goods would be going up.
The phenomenon was born with the pandemic. The boutiques with the golden names and diehard fans started restricting the number of people allowed in as a form of social distancing.
At exactly the same time, more people wanted in. Travel abroad became impossible for all but a few, and Koreans traditionally bought luxury goods abroad, where they are cheaper, especially in duty-free stores.
Demand for luxury goods started to build up — and the lines started to form.
At Chanel at Shinsegae's Gangnam branch recently, the line continued through the morning and even into the afternoon. Some sought-after items are put on display during the day, and shoppers know this — tips are shared online. At around 11 a.m., there were over 155 people in line, all registered with the Pad Man.
Some are there for purely personal reasons, to buy Rolex watches or Chanel bags for wedding gifts or just to treat themselves. Other are professionals, who will resell whatever they buy that day, almost certainly online.
Others are professional queue placeholders, for not all Chanel lovers are willing to shiver in the cold overnight.
On KakaoTalk there are group chats where they can arrange line sitters willing to do the chore for them. Online secondhand marketplaces such as Danggeun Market and Bungaejangter are other places where they can be found.
To make a deal, a person sends a chat with the details — which department store, which brand, which items and the best time to queue up — and suggested pay, which ranges from 10,000 won ($8.40) to 15,000 won per hour. Shinsegae Department Store’s main and Gangnam branches have indoor waiting areas, so queue placeholders charge less.
Line sitters are strictly there to wait. At around 9:30 a.m., before the Pad Man comes out, the real shopper comes and assumes his or her place. At the Shinsegae Department Store’s Gangnam branch, the Korea JoongAng Daily saw three people switching spots around that time.
Kim Tae-gyun started a business managing professional line sitters in June last year. He calls it Openrun Godvatar. Kim has 100 people working for him and gets about 400 to 420 requests per month.
Kim takes 20 percent of the pay line standers get.
“I also tried finding someone to stand in line for me, but I felt uneasy about it because there wasn’t a set standard,” said Kim. “I assumed there were other people like me and thought that turning this into a business could enhance the service quality by providing professional training to the line sitters.”
According to Kim, his workers used to field requests from individual chat rooms, but working for him is easier and more lucrative: 15,000 won to 20,000 won per hour.
“We also have a loyalty point system that customers can use later like cash,” said Kim.
Waiting in line and having the cash doesn’t guarantee that everyone can buy the bag of their dreams.
The women in her 30s that Korea JoongAng Daily talked to at Shinsegae wasn't in luck — the Gabrielle Hobo bag she was seeking was nowhere to be found.
Favorites such as the Chanel Classic Flap and BOY bags are often not stocked.
For years, there have been both a secondary market for luxury branded goods and a second-hand market. Both depend on scarcity and rising prices.
In Korea, secondhand luxury handbags have been selling at higher prices than new ones for a while. Although that market has cooled recently, it's still pretty hot.
On Naver's resale service Kream, the secondhand price for a medium-sized Chanel Classic Flap was 12.35 million won on Jan. 16, higher than the retail price of 11.24 million won.
A month later, the same bag sold for 11.45 million won, down 8 percent but still slightly above the price for a new bag.
In open run terms, that translates into fewer resellers on the overnight lines outside the boutiques — and a great chance for individuals to find the bags they want.
“The premium for [secondhand Chanel bags] fell recently, but a lower premium means that individuals have a chance to buy the bags,” said Openrun Godvatar's Kim.
Chanel was the first brand that started attracting open runs in Korea. But now, lines are sprouting at other luxury brands such as Hermes and Rolex.
There are six department stores that sell Rolex watches in Korea, and a common notion among luxe fans is that you have to get on line the day before to get into those stores.
"I saw a group of 12 university students each pitch in 1 million won to buy a Rolex watch, later selling it and dividing the profit between themselves," added Openrun Godvatar's Kim. "Rolexes are in short supply in almost every country and stores abroad have a reservation wait list system that doesn't allow travelers in.
"The open run will continue since buying in Korea is their only option."
BY LEE TAE-HEE [email@example.com]