Or should I say the bargain hunter's paradise? With the fastest internet connection in the world, top of the line delivery service (same day delivery is quite common), and practical return policies, online shopping is quite popular in Korea with its volume growing year by year. With this sort of a setup, it is no surprise that after the deluge of online shopping malls and discount sites that the next big thing would come: social commerce sites. The burst of social networking and the sharing of information to get the best deal merged together to create an optimal shopping experience, especially for the bargain shopper.
Social commerce sites usually offer discount coupons to the buyers on a "one deal per day" basis. Coupons can be either printed out or conveniently saved to your mobile phone. The deals cover a wide range of products: cafés and restaurants, exhibits and theater tickets, household and fashion items, beauty services and travel.
Here's a brief introduction to the leading Korean social commerce sites:
TMON started service in May of 2010 and is highly recognizable with its orange monster mascot, surprised and wide-eyed at the deals that are offered. Their main categories are in three divisions: Today's deal, Store, and Tour. Today's deal is the usual offerings: cafés and restaurants, exhibits, beauty services and such; Store deals with products that are shipped directly to your home; Tour, obviously, is for highly discounted tour deals.
The regions in Today's deal is divided into Seoul, Seoul Metropolitan Area, Busan, and Other regions. The regions are again divided into more detailed districts. TMON is very Seoul and SMA centric but has been adding more and more regions lately.
The site also has a bulletin board for customer feedback, which is a plus in reassuring the quality of the deals and encouraging discussion among the users; a true emphasis on the "social" part in social commerce.
We Make Price divides by major regions for various products
We Make Price also launched last year with a huge marketing campaign and has quickly established itself as a frontrunner in social commerce. The site offers deals categorized by region: Seoul (Gangnam), Seoul (Gangbuk), Gyeonggi, Chungcheong/Jeolla/Gangwon, Gyeongsang/Jeju. The regions are then broken down into districts according to the deals offered.
The site is famous for cutting deals with big name brands on a large scale; their past deals include Everland, Lotteria, Levi's, and Krispy Kreme to name a few. We Make Price also has a sister site "Private Lounge" which is exclusively for discounted fashion items.
Coupang offers deals for cafés and restaurants, culture, beauty, travel, and fashion
"Color your days" is Coupang's slogan and their site's colorful layout reflects that thought, with beautiful photos of city views as background images. The site's menu is composed of a series of candy-like buttons without being visibly divided into distinct categories (to state the obvious) but actually is divided into: cities (and districts in the case of Seoul), special, delivery, tours, performing arts, and exhibits. The buttons are lit up and clickable only when a deal applies, which makes for easy navigation.
More than 50% of Coupang's members are twentysomethings, which reflects in the deals that they offer – trendy cafés and restaurants are often featured on the site.
Groupon has four main categories
Groupon Korea is the Korean affiliate of the global social commerce site. Recently launched, the site has yet to assert itself in the Korean social commerce arena but is slowly gaining ground. Groupon Korea is categorized into regional divisions of Seoul, Gyeonggi and then the rest of Korea, with an additional category called "Surprise". The main categories have sub-divisions by district and city.
Groupon Korea currently has a "megagift" section which is literally coupons or products given as gifts, i.e. free of charge, in exchange for becoming a member or introducing the site to a friend.
The site also has a feedback system which is done by rating in stars but is unfortunately not being actively used by its users, as there is no room for comment. Being fairly new to the scene, the site has experienced several hiccups on the way (cancelled or misinformed deals) but has been quick in their response to these incidents. Anyhow, Groupon Korea is one to watch for the time being; there is an advantage being part of an international enterprise, you get leeway on the trust factor.
There are other social commerce sites out there, but I have only mentioned the Big 4. Along with these sites, there are other sites that compile all the deals of the different sites together for easy comparison. Since you're usually allowed only one purchase per day, trying to find the best deal via all those sites can be time consuming so these sites can be very useful.
The most notable is from the portal site Daum, which is quite convenient if you're already a member of Daum, as it saves you the hassle of joining a new site. You can find the social shopping category of the portal right next to the shopping button on the menu bar. Daum Social Shopping offers a small selection of deals available from various sites, but I still can't quite grasp what the selection criterion is. Because of the limited number of selected deals, I don't check this site that often.
Unlike Daum, other compilation sites seem to carry ALL the deals of the day, but I have yet to find a site that seems a) trustworthy and b) visually pleasing (I hate cluttered and hard to navigate sites). Consequently, I can't recommend any specific sites for now. If you have a recommendation, please let us know.
* All of the sites are in Korean only but membership is open to all residents in Korea. If you're a foreigner you can join the sites with your registration number on your Alien Registration Certificate. If you're not fluent in Korean, I suggest having a Korean speaker help you out in the registration process.
* There is a limited time period during which your coupon is valid, usually up to 3 months after date of purchase. Try not to forget what you've bought or you'll be met with a deluge at the last moment, especially for restaurants. Most restaurants need to be reserved in advance, especially in the beginning and end of the deal period when customers tend to swarm in.
* Speaking of restaurants, according to customer feedback, most of the unsatisfactory deals come from restaurants, especially for BBQ and sushi places. Sometimes the quality of the ingredients isn't up to par, sometimes the amount is suspicious, sometimes there are differences in the terms of service compared to "regular" customers, and sometimes there is a separate set menu for the coupon users.
* Prices. How much of a bargain are you really getting? Check out the normal prices and compare.
* Going to cafés and restaurants that you know (and which just happen to have a good deal going on) is a good place to start. One of my friends actually maintains this policy, after being disappointed in the amount of food received on a purchased deal.
* Most important: Carefully read the contents before you make a purchase! Most issues are already explained in the deal's description. You can avoid potential problems just by thoroughly checking out what you're actually getting.
All images are screenshots of the respective sites.
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