Interview with Xavier Dufoix - President of Latitude 37, Korea

Jun 24, 2021

What are the most relevant changes in consumer behaviour since Covid?
Korea is one of the countries that better responded to the pandemic crisis. The situation was handled in a way to enable Koreans to socialise and keep up with their daily activities such as shopping, which is an integral part of the local culture.

Korea has always been a highly digitalised country, and the pandemic has further boosted this aspect, pushing even more consumers to shop online for both luxury and as everyday goods.

How will traditional retail strategies change in response to this digitalisation trend?
We named these changes the “Covid retail apocalypse”, as they pushed retailers to completely rethink, improve and develop new concepts. In fact, traditional retailers are now transforming and creating concept stores that focus on digital experiences aimed at connecting with consumers but also making them feel safe while shopping.
An example could be the cashier-less stores that were opened in Seoul in March. These types of stores are run without the need of traditional cashiers, and customers can purchase goods without having to go through physical check-outs.

Are luxury brands adapting well to these changes?
Well-established international luxury brands have always been moving towards digitalisation and are the first to innovate and set trends. As an example, last year Chanel Beauty started selling its products on the local multifaceted messaging platform “Kakao”. This digital strategy turned out to be very successful and was later adopted by all other luxury brands.

What is the profile of luxury Korean consumers?
In Korea, luxury goods have always been a big part of the local culture. In fact, from a young age, Koreans are used to receiving luxury gifts for their graduations and other occasions.
In 2020, more than 50% of luxury consumers were below 40 years old, they purchase goods both at department stores and online and are looking for new, different and unique products. If in the past they were only buying what was available in their local department stores, today they research new trends online and explore international websites, opening huge opportunities for new brands.

Is product sustainability important for Korean consumers?
Korea is not a leading country when it comes to sustainability but, as it always happens here, when there is a growing trend, everyone follows it. As an example, in the beauty sector, the trend of “Clean Beauty” which promotes sustainability in the process of ingredient sourcing is gaining a lot of popularity.
“Refill stations” where customers can bring their own containers for a refill, are also becoming very trendy.

How did brick and mortar and online distribution change in Korea?
A recent study stated that 38% of consumers shifted their shopping habits towards online platforms. Although this shift certainly affected brick-and-mortar distribution, traditional retail is still important and has become the place where all the social media activities converge. What is happening now is that department stores focus their efforts in creating innovative experiences to attract customers that otherwise shop online: they introduce live mobile assistance, virtual events, and live shows.
As a result, people go to stores to experience the latest innovations.

Keeping in mind the growing digitalisation trend, are brick-and-mortar shops still relevant for luxury brands?
In Italy and in France, department stores are not seen as very important, however, in Korea, and Japan, it is exactly the opposite.
In fact, the Korean luxury market is 80% to 90% focused on department stores. Even though online retail grew in importance, it simply cannot replace the in-store customer experience. Customers go to physical stores to touch and feel the product.

Department stores will always be a key part of the retail expansion strategy of any brand that aims at entering the Korean market.

What are the most important factors that brands need to keep in mind in order to expand in Korea?
For a short term strategy, brands will have to adopt a digital strategy and concentrate on it to its fullest. A consistent amount of investment shall be placed into mobile advertising in order to attract customers and gain brand awareness.
In the medium term, brick and mortar and online must go together and marketing should focus on local influencers.
In the long term, brands must be prepared to invest in training, visuals, wide product selection, and VM.

You might also enjoy our video on miscomprehension on e-commerce.

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