Park Soo-beom, a breadwinner in his 40s in Seoul, recently purchased a Christmas tree from AliExpress, a Chinese e-commerce platform where users can purchase products from overseas. Because of the steep market price hikes that have affected virtually all consumer items in the country, price is now his top concern, even trumping quality.
His choice was a 45-centimeter-high, plastic tree priced at less than 15,000 won ($11.00), a deal almost impossible in Korea's major online shopping websites like Coupang or Gmarket, where it is at least double.
"With a limited budget every month, I have become more fond of the Chinese app as it has a variety of affordable choices," said Park.
Kim Bong-im, who lives in Daejeon, has recently started using Shein, another Chinese e-commerce platform dedicated to clothing. Here, cost-effectiveness also stands out. That's good news for the 30-something mother of two with a limited housekeeping budget. After buying food and other priority items for her family, she can finally spend some money on herself.
"When I saw an ad banner showing '90 percent sale on trendy items,' I just couldn't get over the urge to click it," said she.
The presence of Chinese e-commerce is growing in Korea. At the center of the trend are AliExpress, Temu and Shein, where affordable overseas items are readily available. As a direct seller-to-consumer transaction, there is no middleman and prices are kept low.
Monthly visitors to the Chinese platforms are already neck-and-neck with their Korean rivals. Last October, Coupang recorded 28.46 million in visitor numbers and 11st, another Korean e-Commerce website, registered 8.16 million. AliExpress followed with 6.13 million, Gmarket with 5.82 million and Temu with 2.66 million. This year, AliExpress' customer base has more than doubled from the previous year.
In terms of the monthly growth rate, however, the Chinese platforms beat the Korean firms. Temu and AliExpress topped visitor charts last October, according to IGAWorks, a digital market analyst. Over 573,900 more users visited Temu compared to September, and 573,500 for AliExpress. They were followed by Korea's CJ Onstyle (480,000), Lotte Homeshopping (400,000) and GS Shop (280,000).
Shein surpassed Amazon in global app downloads last year with a figure of 170 million.
Chinese e-commerce platforms have risen in the country mainly because of rising market prices here and interest in more affordable items. Made-in-China items fit the bill and are easily found on Chinese platforms. Quality is also no longer a major issue with Chinese products as they now sell cutting-edge technology products alongside those by other advanced market leaders. Indeed, Koreans are becoming more interested in a certain Chinese robotic vacuum cleaner that is priced at less than 200,000 won, which compares favorably to Korean vacuums that are three times more expensive.
Before these Chinese platforms emerged in Korea, Korean e-commerce websites sold Chinese products. But they were sold by Korean brokers such as Naver's Smart Store. Regardless of the reputation for low quality, a market for affordable Chinese items was always present here. What the rising Chinese platforms have done in Korea is fuel those needs.
"If you look at last August, visitors to AliExpress stood at 5.51 million. That was a 99 percent increase from the same month the previous year," said an official from AliExpress. "When we surveyed our consumers, they shared that they love our platform because of our wide range of sources and products. We now sell more than 100 million products on AliExpress. We also have a direct-from-place-of-origin shipment system to offer the lowest possible purchase price for consumers."
She said AliExpress' innovative logistics system is another significant strength that has been attracting customers worldwide.
"We are currently the fastest shipping platform among international platforms," said the official. "We can deliver within five days. Even for global direct sales in Seoul, we can provide directly to Korean consumers within three days. There could be a day or two difference in logistics delivery speed. But I believe consumers will choose us because of our unrivaled variety of products and prices."