GDR innovation researcher Babette-Scarlett Schossau visited the most innovative new retail spaces in Seoul and reports on the latest trends from the vibrant South Korean capital.
The huge metropolis of Seoul is known for the way it mixes traditional retail with cutting edge technology such as robotics and AI. During the last month I’ve visited some of the South Korean capital’s hottest recently opened and remodelled stores to get a sense of where the city is heading in terms of retail innovation. In this article I want to share with you the themes and trends that really jumped out at me.
Within 24h is a clothes store in Seoul that perfectly illustrates the capital’s move towards convenient customisation – customisation that requires minimal effort and time to be delivered. The brand, which works with several designers, promises to deliver customised items within “24h” (or 48 hours if a special pattern is requested).
In-store, customers can try out any of the available clothes virtually via an on-screen avatar featuring their face. Tight areas are marked as red on the virtual clothes to help customers find the right size. Another screen lets consumers customise their chosen clothes by adding or eliminating buttons, changing the colour, pattern or length of certain parts of the clothing item and so on. Samples of the different patterns and materials are available for customers to touch before making a decision.
This trend of convenient customisation can also be found in the beauty sector. Stonebrick is a cosmetics store that allows consumers to build their own make-up systems with modular packaging reminiscent of LEGO. After taking a picture of themselves, customers can use a personal colour AI diagnosis service to help them find their perfect lipstick fit. They can then pair it with a range of 200 different cosmetic products to create their own bespoke make-up system.
Curation and engagement
While not innovative per se, curation using engaging themes and content remains a popular way for retail stores in Seoul to merchandise their product ranges. A really good example of this is beauty store Aritaum Live, which displays relevant storytelling alongside its product displays. For example, alongside its sleeping care section it includes drawings and editorial content at the shelf edge that educate shoppers about how to get a better night’s sleep.
Sephora’s first store in Korea is also curated to create a very engaging customer experience. The Sephora Picks zone by the entrance highlights its influencer-created make-up ranges, while a Dyson hair styling bar shop-in-shop invites customers to have a complimentary dry blow from a stylist using a Dyson hair dryer.
Villa de Murir, an Instagram-friendly make-up store and café in Gangnam, features a Pairing Look wall with five different curated looks, such as ‘sweet & lovely’ and ‘festival’. Each look includes a suggested combination of make-up products to fit the vibe.
The brand also encourages its community of Villa de Murir fans to recommend their own pairings via Instagram, which customers can view on a screen in-store.
Hybrid retail still going strong
Villa de Murir hints at the popularity of hybrid spaces that blend retail with leisure and lifestyle pursuits. Hybrid retail has been growing steadily worldwide, and Seoul is no exception. Following in the line of third spaces, Musinsa Terrace, for example, is a clothing store and third space where customers can dwell. It features a cafe, a rooftop terrace with a view, and a zone that encourages relaxation, with seat cushions and a large screen, all within one large space.
Food service innovations
The food industry in Seoul is also ripe with innovation. Shinsegae’s new upscale SSG Food Market in Gangnam brings customer involvement, personalisation and premium service into a canteen-style setting. Customers can select raw vegetables and hand them over to a Veggie Butcher who will chop them to order. They can then select the exact cut of meat they want, or the seafood offering they like the look of from a live tank, before handing it all over to a chef to cook it for them on the spot.
The café.bot coffee shop leans a lot more into theatrics, using one of three different robots to offer a performance with each purchase. Keeping customers engaged and entertained both online and offline is something cafe.bot is concerned with as well. The café, in an area of Seoul popular for its factory-remodelled coffee shops, offers visitors a performance with each purchase made. Customers at the counter can choose from a range of coffee, cocktails, and cakes. Elements of the creation and delivery processes are managed by robots, who work alongside human staff. With the counter spanning across the wide space, customers are invited to sit back and enjoy the spectacle as they sip their drinks.
This is my second trip to Seoul in recent years and it’s good to see that the South Korean metropolis continues to hold its own amongst the most innovative cities in the global retail scene. While curation and hybrid retail are things we see done well elsewhere, it feels like the convenient customisation trend is something that retailers elsewhere can take inspiration from. No doubt their customers will soon be expecting, or even demanding, the balance of personalisation and convenience that it delivers.
If you’ve found this blog interesting, look out for my second blog from Korea in November, where I’ll be delving into the different ways brands are engaging with commuters on the subway in Seoul.