Korean-made beauty products are, to put it lightly, something of a big deal. Skin creams, moisturizers, makeup, and other products from the country are seen as some of the highest-quality consumer cosmetics in the world. But getting your hands on genuine products, especially in smaller markets, often means paying a steep premium.
That’s where KoreaBuys comes in. With a flashy website and sizable repertoire of brands, the one-year-old ecommerce company aims to bring Korean beauty and fashion products to consumers throughout Asia. And it’s beginning with Indonesia.
Sizing up the market
“It was a no-brainer for me to start from Indonesia,” says KoreaBuys founder and CEO Alex Won. “It has the biggest potential ecommerce market in Southeast Asia, with a great number of K-star [Korean celebrity and fashion] fans.”
Citing a study from earlier this year, Alex estimates there are upwards of 13 million fans of Korean pop culture and fashion in Southeast Asia, with 4.4 million in Indonesia alone.
“There are big online marketplaces for beauty and fashion, but nothing specializing in Korean products,” says Alex.
If KoreaBuys is anything, it’s specialized. The website is a one-stop-shop for all things Korean – beauty products may be the main attraction, but the site also boasts fashion, accessories, K-pop albums, and even Korean teas. But while its Korea-ness may be a defining feature now, Alex hopes that in the future, KoreaBuys “will be the place not only for Korean beauty lovers, but for all consumers who want beauty.”
KoreaBuys takes curation seriously. All of the sellers on the website are vetted to be sure they’re real Korean companies – and not, say, some factory in China churning out similarly labeled products. All items are slapped with a “100% Authenticity” sticker after being checked out by KoreaBuys staff.
“This authenticity check service is becoming more important for our consumers, as several news stories regarding counterfeit Korean products were heard in the region this year,” Alex says.
Operating in the archipelago has been a learning experience for KoreaBuys. When the site initially launched, it followed a Taobao-like model: shipping directly from manufacturers (in Korea) to customers.
But international shipping for individual orders is unwieldy. If a customer wanted to return an item, the process was lengthy, cumbersome, and expensive.
“We lost some of our precious early consumers due to the limitations of international delivery,” says Alex.
These issues prompted KoreaBuys to switch away from a Taobao-type model of direct delivery and towards an Amazon-like model wherein the products are shipped first to fulfilment centers, and then on to customers. In the fulfilment center, KoreaBuys can check to assure each product is undamaged and is going to the right person. And if a customer wants to return an item, it’s simply a matter of sending it back to the center – in Indonesia – rather than all the way to South Korea.
There was also the challenge of convincing Korean beauty and fashion brands to join the site. The Korean beauty product market is booming throughout Asia – especially in China – but it took some hard work to persuade brands of the viability of Indonesia.
“We worked on sales forecasts, data analysis, local market surveys, feedback on products, and product registration services to persuade brands and sellers to join us,” says Alex. “Now, we have 48,000 items from 242 beauty and fashion brands.”
Tomorrow, the rest of Asia
KoreaBuys has started in Indonesia, but it doesn’t intend on staying there exclusively. The company is eyeing Singapore and Malaysia as its next targets for expansion, and Alex hopes to see the site reach Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, and Myanmar within the next two years.
Presently, the website is only available in Bahasa Indonesia, with a smattering of English. For the Singapore and Malaysia launch, targeted for this month, KoreaBuys will roll out a full English-language interface.
The startup is currently looking for external investment to aid its expansion efforts. Alex and her team are taking the company one step – and country – at a time, but aim to have a presence throughout Southeast Asia.
“Like our brand name shouts out loud, we are evangelists of Korean beauty,” Alex exclaims.
KoreaBuys is one of the startups selected to participate in the upcoming Tech in Asia Arena pitch battle. Visit the Tech in Asia Jakarta conference on Nov. 11 and 12 to see KoreaBuys pitch!
Do you think KoreaBuys can crack the Indonesian beauty market? Do you use Korean beauty products? Leave your comments below.
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