From Pokemon pastries to watches, 'Open run' craze continues
Lines are forming throughout the country as Koreans race to get their hands on everything from handbags to pastries, and they are often so proud of their queuing skills that they post and publicize their achievements.
The MoonSwatch is attracting its share of consumer mobs. Made by Swatch and Omega and released worldwide on March 26, the 330,000 won ($271) timepiece resembles the iconic Speedmaster Moonwatch, which retails for 9 million won.
Hundreds of people in Seoul participated in "open runs" at stores with MoonSwatch inventory, which means they lined up for hours or even overnight to get their hands on the limited supply.
Similar behavior was also observed in New York, Tokyo, London, Hong Kong, Geneva and Milan.
With surging popularity, the MoonSwatch is available on online resale marketplaces for around 1.45 to 2.9 million won
The MoonSwatch isn't the only product that has caused open runs recently.
Over 1,000 people per day have lined up to buy the Won Soju, a soju introduced in March by rapper and entrepreneur Jay Park. A bottle is priced at 14,900 won — more than ten times the price of Chamisul or Chum-Churum — but customers seeking the product are willing to line up for it.
People are even waiting patiently in front of convenience stores for 1,500-won Pokemon bread. The pastry was a sensation in the 2000s because of the collectible Pokemon sticker included inside, but it was soon discontinued.
Pokemon bread returned after 16 years, and nostalgic fans have been scrambling to buy as much as they can get. Some people have been lining up at convenience stores waiting for the delivery trucks carrying the Pokemon bread to arrive and rushing in the moment they are stocked at aisles.
Over 7 million Pokemon pastries sold in the first month from the release on Feb. 24.
Stickers are the main reasons people buy the Pokemon bread, and the rare stickers such as the Mewtwo sell at secondhand online marketplaces for 40,000 to 50,000 won each.
Open runs tend to be most prevalent for products with big fan bases — Starbucks merchandise, new "Harry Potter" books or a new iPhone from Apple.
Tips for hunting down Starbucks merchandise are shared online. According to "Trend Korea 2022," a book written by Seoul National University's consumer trend analysis team, Starbucks collectors say people need to go on the Starbucks app between 6:45 a.m. and 6:50 a.m., and that the products are available starting 7 a.m. The main reason is because there will likely be a lag due to the influx of people wanting to buy the cafe's tumblers. If the app says there are over 70,000 people waiting, that means the user will have to wait about 20 minutes to access the purchase screen. An online queue of 40,000 to 50,000 means that the wait will take a little over 10 minutes.
Some merchandise are only available after buying a certain number of drinks, and stories of people buying dozens of drinks just to abandon them on the counter are common during the event periods.
Open runs now go beyond those items, with people lining up for luxuries such as Chanel bags and expensive collectible sneakers. It also happens for anything that is considered rare, such as a limited collector's item or anything that can sell for a higher price on resale marketplaces.
Lining up at famous restaurants is also a common occurrence.
Professional line sitters will pull all-nighters for people who don't want to spend time in queuing, selling their spot for a certain price.
Apart from wanting to buy the product itself, people also participate in open runs so they can post photos of what they bought, boasting how trendy they are.
"Flex culture" — which refers to showing off expensive products — also motivates open runs. "Ambisumers" — people normally frugal but often spending big on things they really want — are also blamed.
The resale market allows people to sell open run-purchased items online at a high price and pocket the difference, attracting people who don't want the products but participate in the open run as an investment.
Open runs are prevalent in Korea, especially as some people seek to stand out with rare and hard-to-find items.
Chanel limits the number of people at stores, so people can't go in and buy items even if they have the money to do so. They may not even be able to buy a Chanel bag after lining up for an open run due to limited inventory.
There are only a few choices for the unlucky people — lining up multiple times until they find the bag they want, buying one from resellers for a premium or just taking what is available in the boutique that day.
Demand for rare items is skyrocketing, and Chanel has been increasing prices in Korea. It hiked prices six times during the past year. The iconic Classic Flap bag medium now retails for 11.8 million won, up 65 percent from 2019's price of 7.15 million won.
Young Koreans are the main participants in open runs. People in their 20s and 30s account for over half of department store sales.
The young are also becoming prominent spenders in other countries. According to Bain & Company, seven out of 10 luxury buyers will be people under 40 by 2025.
One well-known category of influencers born from this trend are people who show off their wealth. They introduce their expensive clothes and collections of luxury handbags on social media, which generates a buzz and increases their following.
But the slightest mistake can end their career. Beauty YouTuber Song Ji-ah, also known as FreeZia, was loved by fans for the extravagant lifestyle she showcased, but she faced intense backlash after some of her luxury designer items were found to be fake.
BY YANG SUNG-HEE, LEE TAE-HEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]