Korean e-commerce market insights

South Korean e-commerce market insights: Forget Google [header image with caption] - LocAtHeart translation agency

Korean e-commerce market insights

You are now aware of the reasons why entering the e-commerce market in South Korea can be a savvy business move. Time to dig deeper into the Korean e-commerce market. 

Before you start reading, forget about Google algorithms, well-known content tactics, and the most popular payment methods you know from Allegro or Zalando. Finding your way around the Korean e-commerce market requires a different approach.

Naver leads the way. South Korea resists the charms of Google

Naver outclasses its American competitor in all available statistics. It is being used for approximately 75% of South Korean market queries. However, in no way does its design resemble Google’s minimalistic one. At first glance, Naver looks like a combination of a web portal with an online marketplace in the spirit of OLX, giving off a strong vibe of a website straight from the beginning of the 21st century. The inconspicuous Naver is something more than just a search engine – it is a powerful network with all the tools that are important for users. Here, before you even start typing your query, you will see the highlights: trending information, weather broadcasts or a sneak peek of the recommended purchases. You can also dive into the blogosphere and user-created content. To sum up: while Westerners say, “Google it,” Koreans say, “Naver it.”

Naver search engine view - LocAtHeart translation agency

Points to consider: The most important functionalities of Naver – e.g. the search engine, Naver Blog or Naver Café – are not available in English. The exceptions include webtoons (online comics), an English–Korean dictionary, and the sign-in page. See to it that your localised content is of the highest possible quality; otherwise you might finish the race before you even start it.

Naver is tailored to the behaviours and needs of a very specific consumer, how very different from those attributed to Western customers and visible in their purchase path. This demands a new strategy.

How does the Naver search engine work?

Long story short – in no way do its algorithms resemble the familiar Google ones.

The differences become all too apparent at the very moment we type a keyword in the search field and hit enter. At first, we will be presented with a list of paid results (a bit longer than the one we know from Google) and user-generated content from blogs or message boards. Later on, our screen will be filled with information collected from web portals, maps, books, films and other knowledge repositories. And only then, at the very bottom, can we see the usual organic results.

A concrete example – let us use the phrase “hotels in Seoul”:

Naver search results - top of page: Paid adverts of hotels

Naver - Hotels in Seoul - search results view - top of page LocAtHeart translation agency

Points to consider: The most important functionalities of Naver – e.g. the search engine, Naver Blog or Naver Café – are not localised into English. The exceptions include webtoons (online comics), an English–Korean dictionary, and the sign-in page. See to it that your localised content is of the highest possible quality; otherwise you might finish the race before you even start it.

Naver is tailored to the behaviours and needs of a very specific consumer, how very different from those attributed to Western customers and visible in their purchase path. This demands a new strategy.

Naver search results: a map of suggested accommodation points

Naver - Recommended location on a map - map view in Naver search results - LocAtHeart translation agency

Naver search results: blog content

Naver - blog results view shows recommended user generated content- LocAtHeart translation agency

Naver search results: news

Naver - news results view in Naver search results- LocAtHeart translation agency

Naver search results - bottom of page: organic search results

Naver - organic results located at the very bottom of the Naver search results view- LocAtHeart translation agency

Naver Blog, Naver Café, and Q&A: the power of influencer marketing

Although the influencer marketing strategy works in European markets too, it is a particularly important pillar of e-commerce in Korea. It has a lot to do with the habits of the customers from that area. Koreans pay particular attention to the opinions of other customers and take them into account before they decide whether or not to finalise a transaction. As many as 71% of Korean consumers are more eager to make a purchase if a product has been recommended in social media. According to yet another study, 86% of Korean women look up customer reviews on the internet before making the final decision. This information is especially valuable if your business involves children’s products and services, or if you work in such industries as beauty and fashion.

Naver search results reflect the value of influencer marketing

The design of the search engine reflects the tastes of the South Korean population. Content from blogs, Café or Q&A section is always going to be positioned higher in search results than the website of your company. Therefore, while devising a marketing strategy, you should focus on creating bonds with customers, and consult the Naver keyword planner.

Influencer marketing and South Korean weddings

The influencer marketing in South Korea is really well-developed. Almost every bride can organise a wedding virtually for free. All they need to do – within the frames of a collaboration deal with a company offering wedding packages (e.g. a wedding hall, a photo session, a wedding dress or make-up services) – is to give an account of their preparations. They run a dedicated social media account, share photos in the message board, and give their opinions. For each of those activities one can collect points and exchange them for money or use to pay for some of the services. A youtuber (a girl from Poland) living in South Korea has taken advantage of this opportunity.

For more information about the differences between running a marketing campaign using Google and Naver, go here.

The most popular online orders categories

According to the Statista database, in 2020, the Koreans spent most on food and beverages. Next in the ranking were home electric appliances, as well as electronic and telecommunication equipment. Further down in the ranking, we can find gastronomic services, clothing, household goods, and cosmetics.

The most popular Korean e-commerce platforms

The Koreans usually make their online orders using platforms like:

  • Gmarket,
  • 11 Street,
  • com,
  • Coupang (known as “the Korean version of Amazon”).

E-commerce payment systems in Korea

When paying for an online order on a Polish portal, there is little chance of facing an unknown challenge. In most cases, we’ll see the same familiar icons: MasterCard/Visa, PayU, Blik, PayPal, or the (relatively) recently introduced PayPo. If you want to enter the Korean e-commerce market, you have to adjust payment gates to your target group’s preferences.

The top 5 payment methods usually chosen by Koreans are:

  • Shinhan Card – 41%
  • Kakao Pay Simple Payments – 41%,
  • SKT Carrier Billing – 35%
  • Naver Pay Simple Payments – 34%
  • Kookmin Bank Transfer – 33%

South Koreans’ Payment Methods:

South Koreans' Preferred Payment Methods according to Rapyd: 35.8% Simple Payment, 29.7% Local Cards, 15.4% Intrnational Cards, 12.8% Bank Transfer, 3.2% Virtual Bank Transfer, 3.1% Carrier Billing. Source: M. Stiltner, 'South Korea eCommerce Trends and Merchant Guide', Rapyd.net - LocAtHeart translation agency

How to communicate with the Korean target group?

Bear in mind that South Korea is a country with strong Confucian traditions. Here, all business relationships and differences in age or social status are reflected in the required vocabulary and proper suffixes (“honorifics”). That is why during the preparation stage – before you embark on a marketing campaign of a product or a service – remember to use the correct style and tone in all communication related to marketing. See both to your content (Koreans pay attention to other product qualities than Europeans) and the form of expression, which might require a bit of polishing or some extra layer of politeness.


Entering the Korean e-commerce market requires detailed arrangements and an entirely new business and communication strategy. Potential hurdles, as well as differences in customer behaviour and habits can come to the surface in various areas.

We can help you create content reflecting specific market conditions and the mission of your organisation, so that your Korean debut goes smoothly and ends up in success.

Additional sources:
Jobst, N., ‘Online shopping transaction value 2020, by category’ (7 Jun. 2021), Statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/314776/most-popular-social-commerce-product-categories-in-south-korea/.
Stiltner, M., ‘South Korea eCommerce Trends and Merchant’s Guide’ (28 Oct. 2020), Rapyd, https://www.rapyd.net/blog/south-korea-ecommerce-trends-and-merchants-guide/
The Marketing Samurai, ‘Your Guide to Naver’ (19 Nov. 2018), Info Cubic, https://www.infocubic.co.jp/en/blog/south-korea/your-guide-to-naver/.

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