, , , , ,

Want a little retail excitement? It seems that the place to look is South Korea, where the discount retailer E-Mart has initiated three separate new store concepts in less than three months. Whereas previously E-Mart was devoted to discount and department stores, it has sensed opportunity in category-specific stores or category specialists, and it is pursuing those opportunities with vigor:

  • E-Mart Traders is a new warehouse store with private-label brands. Formerly called Price Club, this store concept emerged from a joint venture between E-Mart and Costco. The original E-Mart provides bulk packaged items at comparably low prices, without membership fees.
  • Molly’s Pet Shop offers a high-end pet store and kennel, as well as a café so people can dine, with their pets along for the meal. A totally new concept to Korean consumers, Molly’s combines pet grooming and training with social interactions to ensure a fun, playful retail experience
  • Matrix, an electronics shop with a strong gaming focus, targets technologically savvy shoppers. In general, Koreans exhibit good familiarity and comfort with advanced technology, making this concept a good fit.

These three concepts all opened within three months of one another, located in close proximity. In the future, E-Mart plans to spread the concepts out more so they can stand alone as well. The Korean market is growing so quickly that companies must open stores fast and capture consumers’ attention—and E-Mart has gotten a jump on the competition.

But recently, Tesco took an innovative step when it opened HomePlus virtual stores in several Korean subway stations. In a busy urban center, it takes a lot of time to get to a grocery store. Virtual stores look like grocery stores, except that they are just LCD screens! The virtual markets allow customers to shop with just their smartphones, so they can pick up the essentials on their commute home, without wasting any time. These new concepts mark South Korea as a trendsetter—with many more innovations to come.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What traits of South Korea encourage these new trends and retail innovations?
  2. What are the U.S. equivalents to the concepts described in Korea?

Sandy Smith, “Category Killing, Korea Style,” Stores, October 2011.