South Korean men gripped by lure of luxury

Branded sneakers are popular luxury purchases for young men.
Branded sneakers are popular luxury purchases for young men.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SEOUL • Lotte Department Store, the largest department store chain in South Korea, threw a party for some 200 of its VIP customers last month.

About 10 luxury brands, including watchmaker IWC and designer clothing brand Thom Browne, set up booths. Models presented top styles for the upcoming season at a mini-fashion show. Only men with annual purchases of more than 100 million won (S$117,180) were invited.

Gone are the days when men were just an afterthought for retailers. They are emerging as power shoppers who spend with a new sense of conviction.

"Men's luxury has been seeing a strong growth lately," Ms Kim Hye-ra, a Lotte executive, said of the motives behind the party. "So we planned this event, the first of its kind in the local retail industry, to present male shoppers with some new lifestyle ideas."

The department store chain has witnessed a steady increase in men's purchases, from around 25 per cent of total sales in 2016 to 31 per cent last year.

More recently, a noticeable change has been taking place in the items that men buy. In 2017, the top three categories were electronics, menswear and outdoor gear. Between January and September this year, the list comprised electronics, beauty and personal care, and imported luxury.

Lotte says men in their 20s and 30s - millennials who are more conscious of their self-image and willing to spend on themselves - are the ones behind the shift.

Lotte is not the only retailer paying keen attention to male shoppers.

Shinsegae, which in March last year launched a credit card exclusively for men in partnership with Samsung Card, analysed the data from card users' purchasing patterns. It found that men visited its stores less often, but when they did, they spent four times more than their female counterparts.


Meanwhile, Galleria Department Store saw a 32 per cent increase year-on-year in sales of men's luxury brands last year and is again logging double-digit growth this year.

"Luxury is driving the sales of department stores and is expected to remain strong for the time being," stated a recent report by Samsung Securities.

Unsurprisingly, department stores are adjusting their strategies and competing to expand their men's luxury line-up.

Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Fendi and Dior added new stores for men in South Korea over the past year or so. Hyundai has dedicated a section to men's fashion and beauty at some of its branches in and around Seoul, encompassing fashion, jewellery, electronics, cameras, bicycles and even a premium beauty shop.

In August this year, Lotte introduced a Fendi's collection for men at a pop-up store. A previous pop-up in February had featured new watches from IWC. Wristwatches are popular items for young luxury buyers, as are sneakers.

"Top-notch brand sneakers have become something like what luxury bags are for women," said Mr Kim Hyung-shik, 28, who bought a pair of Balenciaga sneakers last year. The shoes cost him nearly 1 million won, two-thirds of what he earned at his job as an intern, but Mr Kim said he did not regret the purchase.

"I think it was a good style investment," he added.

According to experts, millennial men are rising as the key consumer group for the retail industry globally. These young men shatter old gender stereotypes in shopping patterns and are actively involved in household purchasing decisions both big and small.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 13, 2019, with the headline 'South Korean men gripped by lure of luxury'. Print Edition | Subscribe