Shopping in Korea can be considered a shopper’s paradise, especially if you love trendy clothing. Here is a breakdown on shopping venues in Korea—from corner markets to designer labels;
These small markets are literally on every single street corner in Korea. Some of the chain stores you’ll recognize from home—like 7-Eleven or Family Mart or Ministop. But then there are also even more mom and pop “marts,” as they are called in Korean. You can find all your basic necessities here—milk, beer, sodas, ice cream, snacks, candy, etc. Usually they have ATMs as well if you ever find yourself strapped for cash (though they are mostly in Korean at these small stores.) These marts almost always have Korea’s ubiquitous red plastic patio furniture outside—the perfect place for an afternoon ice cream or evening beer. It’s completely legal to drink anywhere outside in Korea. You’ll often see businessmen shaking hands over green bottles of soju and beer on these very plastic tables.
There are a variety of super stores in Korea, much like the Wal-Marts and Targets of back home. The biggest names are E-Mart, Lotte Mart, and Home Plus. These are great places to get those hard-to-find items like imported beer and wine; clothes that fit; home décor; sporting equipment; pets (I bought a gold fish there!); music; peanut butter; chips and salsa; and anything else you can imagine. These stores tend to be more expensive than their western counterparts. But you can often find just about anything you need here.
Downtown streets at cities across Korea are filled to the rim with little boutique clothing stores—closet-size clothing shops offering the latest trends and fashions. These are great little places to shop as a woman. They’re not too expensive. But the downside is that if you are larger than a size 6/8 back home, you’ll have a hard time finding something that fits. Some store owners won’t let you try on things if they eye you and think you’ll stretch something out. FYI—one thing that always drove me crazy was that they rarely put mirrors in their dressing rooms. So once you try something on, you have to walk out of your dressing room to peer in a mirror. My dressing room has been stolen while I was peering in the mirror at something hideous and that was an experience I never wanted to repeat.
Under most cities’ downtown streets in Korea you will discover a totally different shopping experience. As far as you can see in every directions, stores operate beneath the hustle and bustle of the cities. So just in case you didn’t find what you needed above ground, make sure you head below.
There are second-hand stores in Korea—and it’s usually best to ask some other foreigners in your new city where they are. They will know, since these are the places that other foreigners usually dump their clothes after their year’s end. So that also means there are clothes that are larger than a size 6 there. They are wonderful little places! Check out one nationwide chain—The Beautiful Store.
I’m not sure why they use the word outlets because from my experience, these are some of the priciest places to shop. But there are lots of brand names like Nike, Adidas, Polo, and Gap. Just be prepared to lay down some Won.
There are several big department stores brands in Korea. But again, they are much more expensive their than western counterparts. Expect to pay out big time for the quality of clothing. A department store in Gwangju recently opened a Gap inside of it. Jeans you would pay $50 in your North American Gap go for about $150.