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Consumer Profile

Consumer Profile
South Korea's the population is ageing very quickly, the median age is 44.8 years old. While only 14.8% of the population is under 18 years old, 67.8% is between 18 and 64 years old and 17.5% is above 65 years old (Data Reportal, 2022). The population is growing at a rate of 0.1%, according to the latest data provided by the World Bank. Households have an average of 2.4 people in 2021 (Kostat). 27% of households live alone, 48% of households are composed of 2 or 3 people, 24% of households of 4 or 5 people and only 1.5% of households have more than 6 members (UN, latest data available). The gender ratio is 1 man to 1 woman with 81.5% of the population living in urban areas (Data Reportal, 2022). The population is concentrated in the non-mountainous lowlands: the Gyeonggi province around Seoul is the most populated while the Gangwon province is the least dense. The main cities are Seoul, Busan, Incheon, Daegu, Daejon, and Gwangju. The level of education is very high. In Korea, 89% of adults aged 25-64 have completed upper secondary education, higher than the OECD average of 79% (OECD, 2020). Moreover, the population with tertiary education aged 25-34 year olds is nearly 70% in 2020, far above the OECD average (45%). The most active occupations in the labour force concern administration and accounting, then salespeople with kitchen and restaurant staff. Then come administrators, office workers and farmers.
Purchasing Power
The GDP per capita PPP is $ 45,225.8 in 2020 (World Bank). In Korea, the average household net-adjusted disposable income per capita is USD 24,590 a year, lower than the OECD average of USD 30,490 a year (OECD, 2020). A significant gap exists between the richest and the poorest: 20% of the population earns more than five times more than the lower 20%. In addition, the average salary in Seoul is among the highest in Asia, currently at KRW 2.9 million, or around USD 2,275 (Statista). In terms of employment, 66% of people aged 15 to 64 in Korea have a paid job, which is the same level as the OECD employment average. The Gini index on income inequality is estimated at 0.34 and stable, but gender inequality is among the highest among OECD countries. Some 75% of men are in paid work, compared with 57% of women. The gender pay gap in Korea is the highest among OECD countries at 31.5% in 2020, contributing to making working life for women in Korea unappealing.
Consumer Behaviour
South Korea is a consumer society. Purchases not only serve the primary needs but also for image and status reasons. The economic slowdown and the high level of debt have pushed some Koreans to pay attention to their spending, even if luxury goods are still trendy. Products attracting the most consumers are successful brands where detailing is visible. Consumption is used to make a statement. In general, purchases are made in department stores, shopping centres but also in new types of stores (example: food retailers).

Korean consumers are not loyal to brands, they tend to be tech-savvy and concerned with brand names. Koreans are very connected. As a matter of fact, more than 98% of South Korean households access internet daily and over 85% of the Korean population owns a smartphone (Data Reportal, 2022). Online shopping is very democratised. Around 90% of the nation’s population use e-commerce platforms, and this is expected to rise to 94.4% in 2023. The use of the internet also makes it possible to search for information on a product before picking it up in a store. Social networks are used to explore, review products and buy. Influencers and testers of known products are influential in consumer decision making. Consumers are increasingly less attracted to domestic products while purchases of foreign products are growing.

South Koreans tend to change their consumption behaviour.  Koreans are increasingly looking for leisure free time. Consumption friendly to the environment is not yet fully widespread, even if it developing. A new group of consumers has emerged, insisting on “green labels” and hunting for eco-friendly, or organic and natural alternatives. Concerns for the environment are a little stronger among young people. There is a second-hand market in South Korea that is developing, especially with flea markets and internet exchanges. The collaborative economy is present and growing in South Korea.
 

Household Consumption Expenditure

Sector Percentage
Housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels 18.4%
Food and non-alcoholic beverages 13.8%
Miscellaneous goods and services 13.5%
Transport 12.0%
Leisure and culture 8.3%
Hotels and Restaurants 8.0%
Clothing and Shoes 5.9%
Health 5.6%
Education 5.3%
Furnishings, household equipment and routine house maintenance 3.3%
Communication 3.2%
Alcoholic beverages, tobacco and narcotics 2.7%

Source: OECD Stats, 2017.

Consumer Recourse to Credit
South Korea is very modern for payment systems. While only 20% of transactions are made in cash, debit and credit cards and T-Money cards are widespread. South Korea's central bank aims to stop using liquidity by 2020. As a result of credit-enhancing measures, the level of household debt has exploded. In mid-2018, household debt to their disposable income reached 161.1% and outstanding amounts to won 1 993 trillion. On average, one person has 80 million won of debts and 37% of the population had debts in June 2018. Consumer credit and credit card purchases are very common and used to finance vehicles but general consumption. The country's central bank is alerting consumers about the level of private debt but also about the fact that defaults are rising. The expansion, if it continues, could therefore be slowed down by the authorities.
Growing Sectors
Cars, computers, smartphone and software, medicines, parapharmacy and medical equipment, transport, food, restaurants and hotels, education services, interior decoration, fashion, luxury goods and services for the elderly.
Consumers Associations
Korean Consumer Agency
 

Population in Figures

Total Population:
51,780,579
Urban Population:
81.4%
Rural Population:
18.6%
Density of Population:
531 Inhab./km²
Men (in %)
50.0%
Women (in %)
49.9%
Natural increase:
0.14%
Medium Age:
36.0
Ethnic Origins:
The population of South Korea is the most ethnically homogeneous in the world, with 96.6% of the population of Korean origin and 3.4% of foreign nationals. Among the largest groups of foreign nationals, Chinese nationals account for 43.5%, followed by 11.1% Vietnamese, 10.2% Thai and 4.4% from the United States. (Statistics Korea)
 

Population of main cities

City Population
Seoul 10,011,000
Busan 3,459,900
Incheon 3,029,300
Daegu 2,468,300
Daejeon 1,494,000
Gwangju 1,480,300
Suwon 1,235,100
Ulsan 1,168,500
Goyang 1,078,900
Yongin 1,078,600
Changwon 1,059,900

Source: Citypopulation.de, Latest available data - Latest available data.

 

Age of the Population

Life Expectancy in Years
Men:
80.3
Women:
86.3

Source: United Nations Population Division: World Population Prospects (2009 Revised Population Database), 2009 - Latest available data.

 
Distribution of the Population By Age Bracket in %
Under 5:
4.7%
6 to 14:
11.5%
16 to 24:
13.6%
25 to 69:
62.9%
Over 70:
7.3%
Over 80:
2.0%

Source: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs: Population Division, 2010 Prospects - Latest available data.

 

Household Composition

Average Age of the Head of the Household 46.0 Years
Total Number of Households (in million) 17.3
Average Size of the Households 2.9 Persons
Percent of Households of 1 Person 23.9%
Percent of Households of 2 Persons 24.3%
Percent of Households of 3 or 4 Persons 43.8%
Percent of Households of 5 Persons and More 8.0%

Source: UN data, 2011 - Latest available data.

 

Consumption Expenditure

Purchasing Power Parity 2019202020212022 (e)2023 (e)
Purchasing Power Parity (Local Currency Unit per USD) 833.38834.27826.43819.75813.98

Source: IMF – World Economic Outlook Database, Latest Available Data

Definition: Purchasing Power Parity is the Number of Units of a Country's Currency Required to Buy the Same Amounts of Goods and Services in the Domestic Market as USD Would Buy in the United States.

Note: (e) Estimated Data

 
Household Final Consumption Expenditure 201820192020
Household Final Consumption Expenditure
(Million USD, Constant Price 2000)
774,055786,953748,182
Household Final Consumption Expenditure
(Annual Growth, %)
3.21.7-4.9
Household Final Consumption Expenditure per Capita
(USD, Constant Price 2000)
14,99915,21914,449

Source: World Bank, Latest Available Data

 
Consumption Expenditure By Product Category as % of Total Expenditure 2017
Housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels 18.4%
Food and non-alcoholic beverages 13.8%
Miscellaneous goods and services 13.5%
Transport 12.0%
Recreation and culture 8.3%
Restaurants and hotels 8.0%
Clothing and footwear 5.9%
Health 5.6%
Education 5.3%
Furnishings, household equipment and routine maintenance of the house 3.3%
Communication 3.2%
Alcoholic beverages, tobacco and narcotics 2.7%

Source: OECD Stats, Latest available data

 
Information Technology and Communication Equipment, per 100 Inhabitants 2012
Telephone Subscribers 108.5
Main Telephone Lines 61.9
Cellular mobile subscribers 108.5
Internet Users 84.1
PCs 57.6

Source: International Telecommunication Union, Latest available data

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Marketing opportunities

 

Media in Which to Advertise

Television
Television in South Korea remains the media with the biggest impact on consumers. There exists hundreds of TV stations. Over 80% the population watches cable or satellite TV. Unlike land-based television channels, new comprehensive programming channels can broadcast for 24 hours and commercial breaks are allowed. Ad spending was equivalent to 39% of the total market in 2015.

Main Televisions
KBS / Korea Broad. System
Press
Newspaper advertising in South Korea reaches consumers massively. Free newspapers such as Metro are widely available, especially in the Seoul Capital Area (50 % of the national population). Advertising in magazines is the best option to reach a focused specific target or consumer group, as well as to sell industrial and commercial products. The number of Koreans reading newspapers has fallen significantly over the last few years to 28% (compared with 45% in 2011). Ad spending was equivalent to 13.5% of the total market in 2016. In response to fewer readers many South Korean newspapers are joining with television stations to boost revenue and readers.

Main Newspapers
The Chosun Ilbo
Donga
The Korea Times
Mail
Home or online shopping malls, department stores, supermarket, outlets, restaurants, use the mail service on a regular basis for marketing purposes. During sale season, the mail catalogues or pamphlets attract the consumers with the included discount coupons.
In Transportation Venues
Inside subway cars, buses, and in stations, hanging flyers, framed posters, stickers, and flat-panel video. Ad spending was equivalent to 9.3% of the total market in 2015.
Radio
There are many radio stations in South Korea but with few distinctive channels. Many channels are broadcast according to people's interests and lifestyles. Only 12% of the population listen to the radio regularly. Ad spend is about 2% of the total market.

Main Radios
KBS Radio
MBC Radio
SBS Radio
EBS Radio
tbs eFM
CBS - Christian Broadcasting System
BBS - Buddhist Broadcasting System
Web
South Korea is one of the world leaders in IT and high speed Internet. 92.7% of the population use Internet. Advertising through Internet is becoming increasingly important (banner, buzz, blogs, e-mails) and in 2016 the revenue for digital advertising was equivalent to a 32% of the total ad market (USD 3.2 billion). To advertise through SMS, consumers must subscribe. In 2018, mobile ad spending will surpass that of TV for the first time, at USD 2.67 billion vs. USD 2.48 billion.
Advertising through phoning campaigns is also practised but not appreciated by consumers.


Market Leaders:
Unitel Ppurio
Main Advertising Agencies
Cheil Worldwide
HS AD
 

Main Principles of Advertising Regulations

Beverages/Alcohol
The words "Drinking is accepted for those over 19 years" must be included. Advertisements on TV are allowed after 10 pm. Young celebrities under 25 are banned from advertising alcohol.
Cigarettes
South Korean men are big smokers whereas women usually do not smoke (it is not socially accepted). Government aims to make the country one of the world's most difficult places to smoke. A person must be over 19 years to be legally allowed to buy tobacco. It is forbidden to show someone smoking on TV. In 2018 the government mandated that tobacco companies place graphic warnings on packs of cigarettes, e-cigarretes and chewing tobacco. Cigarette sales are falling in the country.
Pharmaceuticals/Drugs
Advertising of drugs is regulated by the Korean Pharmaceutical Affairs Law (KPAL), which prohibits provision of information to the public about prescription of drugs.
Other Rules
Anti-social and anti-moral advertisement or any content that may be offensive to South Korean culture are not permitted. Prohibitions include: private investigation, dating service, fortune telling, antihypertensive drugs and the appearance of healthcare professionals (including models dressed as such). For more information visit the Korea Consumer Agency.
Use of Foreign Languages in Advertisement
English is increasingly used in advertising, but foreign commercials must always include Korean language.
Organizations Regulating Advertising
Korea Advertising Review Board (KARB) (in Korean)

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Latest Update: September 2022