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2017-04-20 15:36
By Park Jae-hyuk

 


While writing a series of 10 articles highlighting operations of foreign luxury brands in Korea, this reporter received a lot of feedback over the past few weeks, not only from the global companies but also from many readers of The Korea Times. Most of the feedback defended the operations of the foreign firms and were not that favorable to the articles.

But are these foreign luxury brands really innocent enough to deserve this defense? For our readers’ information, this reporter felt an obligation to check whether they really are, throughout writing the articles, and that is still the case.

After criticizing Bulgari’s stinginess in Korea, one of our readers wrote that Korea does not require money from the Italian company, as the country lacks “needy” children. He said, “All Korean kids have access to good medical care, schools, good food and housing,” which is actually wrong, considering children with poor parents, without parents and victims of abuse.

Moreover, Bulgari’s donations even benefit children in wealthier nations, such as Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. Also, given that Bulgari has yet to list Korea among its charity beneficiaries on its official website, a Bulgari spokeswoman was highly suspicious about prevarication when asked whether the money contributed to Save the Children Fund is spent on Korean children.

After pointing out the poor customer relations of Hermes requiring a long lead time for buying its bags, Michael Tonello, an author of “Bringing Home the Birkin,” wrote that there never was waiting list, because Hermes opened a lot of stores in recent years and greatly increased production by hiring more craftsmen for the new assembly line.

The author’s words which conflict with explanations of salesclerks and the experience of many Korean consumers, however, foster doubts that there is a pecking order in getting Hermes bags in Korea. Some suspect that high-profile figures get them early, while ordinary people will have to wait quite a long time. And still, Hermes remains reluctant to comment on the issue

Some readers argued that the overall series was biased, but this reporter tried to reflect explanations from each brand, even after the articles were published. The accusations of bias may have been a result from insufficient explanations from the companies.

Comparing Korean firms to foreign companies, some said that the former are also stingy in countries where they are doing businesses. If they really are, this reporter truly hopes journalists there, who are well-informed about laws and economic situations in each country, highlight the matter.

Although the series is over, this reporter and The Korea Times will keep watching the management of foreign luxury brands, including those dealt with in this series and those that have yet to be highlighted.

The amendment of a law, which was expected to enforce limited companies to unveil their financial statements, failed due to the removal from office of former President Park Geun-hye and the resulting presidential election. Thus, foreign luxury brands in Korea are highly likely to continue their practice of stingy donations, inconsistent pricing policies and the mistreatment of retailers and employees.

One consolation is that this apparent attitude may face a backlash from Koreans. Although some people still argue that Koreans will continue to be obsessed with luxury, signs of changes are appearing slowly but steadily.

As this reporter wrote in previous articles, Louis Vuitton has begun to lose its luster in Korea, and duty free operators did not participate in a bid for the luxury fashion brand and accessories slots in the second terminal at Incheon International Airport. Also, more Koreans are turning their eyes to rental shops, rather than buying luxury items.

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