Last year, when KARD—one of the biggest names in the Korean pop (K-pop) industry—toured India for its maiden concert in Delhi and Guwahati, the response was overwhelming. “We didn’t know we had a huge fan following here,” BM, one of the band members, reportedly said.
While KARD underestimated India’s growing love for Korean culture, entrepreneur Seo Young Doo already had some tricks up his sleeve. Young Doo had, in December 2018, launched an online venture called Korikart, an etailer for Korean beauty, skincare, food, fashion, home and kitchen products.
“We look forward to capturing an audience of K-pop fans,” says Young Doo, who came to India in 2004, and studied international relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). These fans, he says, are seeking famous Korean products such as cosmetics and ramen noodles. Along with his own admiration for India, he launched the e-store betting on the growing popularity of K-pop, K-Drama and Korean skincare.
“We have seen quite a surge in demand for skincare, and especially for noodles,” he adds. “There is a steadily growing population that wants to use products made of natural ingredients, which are affordable and healthier. Korean products tick all these boxes,” he says in an interview with Forbes India.
Can Korean noodles beat the Chinese in India? Can Young Doo make it big ‘Gangnam Style’? Excerpts from the interview:
Q. You started as a platform for Korean cosmetics but gradually diversified your offerings…
Yes, we noticed the popularity of Korean drama and K-pop in India, and our experiment with Korean cosmetics gave us good feedback from the customers. This motivated us to add categories such as Korean food, home and kitchen, personal care and lifestyle. Today, we have over 70 brands and more than 380 SKUs.
Over the last few months, we have added quite a few categories such as gourmet food, tea and coffee. We have come a long way from being just a Korean cosmetics website. We intend to add more products such as airtight containers, air-purifying masks, car air purifier, lip tints, noodles, mask sheets, intimate hygiene wash and wipes, clothing and a lot more.
Q. Is the market for Korean products big in India? What makes you bullish?
We are certain about the fact that the more we bring Korean products to India, the more visibility they will get, hence contributing to the growth of the Korean market. If we specifically talk about Korean cosmetics, according to a survey conducted by Rakuten Insight, about 39% of Indian women stated that their skincare routine consisted 25% of K-beauty products. About 3% of surveyed women in India said that all their skincare products were from Korean brands.
Q. Have anti-Chinese sentiments in India contributed to a sales spike in the last quarter?
We did have a spike in sales, with a growth of 40% to 50%. But we cannot completely owe it to the boycott Chinese products movement. I feel it is also because we have a great collection of products available on Korikart, and our loyal and repeat customers. We’ve witnessed a huge demand not only from metro cities but also from regions like Punjab and North East. We also see rising demand from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
The lockdown led to a surge in sales of instant noodles and skincare. Instant noodles are a convenient one-pot meal when working from home. Serums and sheet masks are also in demand as the pandemic has made people realise how important it is to value and care for oneself while there is still a chance. The focus has been shifted from makeup to healthy skin.
Q. In spite of the popularity of K-pop, Indians by and large are still not familiar with Korean products. How do you intend to reach out to potential buyers?
Korean products are comparatively new for Indian customers. At times we have to explain the products, its usage, benefits, and we are working on a video platform, or video e-commerce, to do this. We were the first one to launch a video description channel: Korikart TV. We have already started working on video commerce along with our e-commerce and in coming years we would like to focus more on this.
Q. How do you differentiate yourself from other ecommerce platforms?
The growing e-commerce industry is cut-throat. Big sharks like Amazon, Flipkart and Nykaa might be our competitors, but what makes Korikart different is that it deals solely in Korean products. We are a one-stop online store for all the avid K-pop lovers and Korean products enthusiasts in India. However, we need to make sure we stand out and, thus make customer support our top priority. Providing genuine products with best customer support along with launching video commerce with valuable information will differentiate us. The products are directly imported from Korea without the involvement of any middleman, and we assure the most reasonable and affordable prices.
Q. What are some potential challenges for Korikart?
The major challenge is growing competition in e-commerce, and the hesitation among customers to try a new brand. People are quite used to purchasing from websites like Amazon and Flipkart, hence feel reluctant to buy from new websites. We are confident about the quality and the services that we offer but the main challenge is to get the attention of the audience to Korean products. Those who are already familiar with K-pop and Korean culture willingly want to try our products, but the rest have to be swayed by showing why Korean products are a good choice to make.
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