Believe it or not, South Korea did not have an official Apple store until three days ago. On Jan. 26, the world’s most valuable company opened its first offline store in the country on Garosu-gil, a hip Seoul street lined with with upscale boutiques, galleries and cafés.
Featuring Apple’s trademark minimalist design, a full German-made glass façade and indoor potted trees in a subtle reference to its location — Garosu-gil means “tree-lined street” — the new Seoul store is home to specialists who offer various courses on Apple products and a “Genius Bar” where staff troubleshoot, repair and replace Apple devices.
The Silicon Valley giant had 499 official stores around the world until recently; Seoul’s new store has rounded the number up to a neat 500. This is surprising given the abundance of official Apple stores in neighboring countries such as China (41) and Japan (seven, excluding the Shibuya store which is temporarily closed). Even Hong Kong, smaller than South Korea in terms of both geographical area and market size, has six official stores flaunting the glossy Apple logo. Which all begs the question: What’s taken Apple so long to come to South Korea?
“Compared to other larger markets like the US or UK, South Koreans are less receptive towards Apple products as the smartphone market is dominated by the likes of LG and Samsung who together accounted for more than an 80% share in 2017,” Karissa Chua, a consumer electronics consultant at Euromonitor, told Korea Exposé.
However, fierce domestic competition has never been a deterrent for Apple when it comes to opening up retail stores in other countries. The firm faces strong competition in China, for example, where three local players — Huawei, Oppo and Vivo — lead the market.
It’s true that South Korea is largely the territory of the chaebol, its family-run conglomerate empires. Samsung Electronics is the number-one player in the country’s smartphone industry, enjoying a market share of more than 64 percent in 2017 according to analysis by Euromonitor (Apple came in third with 16 percent after LG Corp).
South Korean Smartphone Market Share – 2017
However, considering the overwhelming power of this chaebol duopoly on its home turf, Apple’s performance is not too bad. In both the smart wearables and tablets sectors, it ranks in second place behind Samsung Electronics, with more than a fifth of the overall share in each market.
According to Chua, the strong presence of existing licensed Apple resellers contributed to Apple’s hesitancy. “The presence of official Apple resellers like Frisbee in South Korea meant that there was no immediate urgency for Apple to open its own retail stores” according to Chua.
Xiaohan Tay, a senior market analyst with IDC, said the opening of its first store in South Korea was a good thing for the company. “Having a flagship Apple store will also help improve Apple’s branding. The flagship stores tend to attract the attention of consumers and tourists too.”
Update: An Apple PR representative for South Korea declined to comment on why Apple opened its first official store in the country relatively late.
Click here to read South Koreans’ (highly excited) tweets about their virgin Apple store experiences (in South Korea, anyway — many of them have experience visiting an Apple store overseas).
Cover image: South Korea’s first official Apple store (photo courtesy of Apple)