On my very first evening in Myeung-dong area I was randomly walking along the streets, enjoying the very special Myeung-dong evening experience: crowds of shoppers pushing along the narrow streets, music blaring from every store and restaurant, sales staff standing outside the beauty stores announcing special offers to try and lure customers inside, food stalls everywhere, more crowds, more noise…..
Then I drifted past an Olive Young store, one of the many branches that Korea’s leading drugstore retailer operates in the central Seoul area. This particular outlet looked different though, so I drifted right back to check it out. The store was much bigger than the average Olive Young retail space; new, stylish and sophisticated-looking – and indeed, as it turned out this is a new Olive Young retail format. The “Lifestyle Experience Center”, opened in 2012, is an attractive beauty concept store with an integrated café area and a strong hallyu flavour.
With a retail area of 1,188 sq ft the store is also Olive Young’s biggest outlet in Korea, according to a 2013 article in the Korea Herald. The ground floor is dedicated to cosmetics and fragrances. As you enter the store you see a promotional area which at the moment showcases a (presumably new) herbal brand, The Remedy (parent company is LG). The Remedy’s products are formulated with powdered roots and it’s a good example of how modern a hanbang-inspired brand can look. Hanbang is the Korean term for traditional oriental/herbal medicine based beauty brands (usually skin and body care).
It’s a product type which is very popular in Korea and in East Asia in general; most of the big Asian C&T manufacturers have at least one herbal/hanbang brand in their portfolio. Anyway, as annoying as the typography of the brand logo is (I mis-read the brand name as The Remady the first time I saw it!), the Western/retro inspired packaging is eye-catching and the products look very attractive.
Behind The Remedy display case there is a whole wall full of new brand launches. Beauty electronics (think Clarisonic!) appear to be as popular in Korea as they are in Europe. This area also features the store’s bestselling products – actually, that’s something that I noticed in Seoul’s more touristy Watsons, LOHB’s and Boons’ outlets: the stores usually have a special shelf display which is headed “Tourist’s Choice” or “Must Have” and displays the current star products of the Korean beauty scene.
Judging by the extensive advertising and displays in this particular Olive Young store, one of the most popular items at the moment is the brand-new Shrek hydro gel face mask. Masks with special designs, animal or manga faces are a big trend in the sheet face mask sector at the moment.
Anyway, to continue the tour of the Olive Young Experience store: to the left is a very large Dermo Cosmetics section with French pharmacy brands like Avène, Nuxe, Vichy, La Roche Posay and Bioderma. Again, this is a staple in all Korean beauty retailers that I have seen so far; European dermo brands are popular in Asia. I was pleased to see German brand Eucerin in the brand line-up!
The shelves continue with masstige and premium skin care brands, mostly Asian brands like Dr. Jart+, Guerisson, Cloud9, Isa Knox, Isoi, Dear by Emprani, DermaLift, Hada Labo and Carezone. There are also Western standards like Ponds, Neutrogena, Olay and L’Oréal and, strangely enough, German mass market brand brand Physiogel (quite possibly one of the most boring-looking brands I know).
Free-standing shelves display Asian and Western mass market beauty brands; the products are shelved by product category rather than brand: there are sections with cleansers, masks, skin care, body care and so on. Towards the back of the store comes the colour cosmetics department which features a wide range of Korean, Japanese and Western makeup brands (German brand Artdeco has a large counter here). In the makeup section there is a “Ranking” shelf which displays the top-selling colour cosmetics products in order of importance and according to product category.
Fragrances – all the usual international mainstream favourites – are retailed right next to the colour cosmetics department and there is also a section with Natural Brands. These are a rather wild mixture of certified organic and “green” labels, including Yves Rocher from France, Burt’s Bees and John Masters Organic from the US, Korean label Aromatica, some bath salts from German bath care brand Dresdner Essenz and the products of Olive Young’s own label natural brand Shingmulnara (which was launched in 2012).
Now, follow the big staircase up to the second floor and things are starting to become really interesting! This is where the immersive part of the shopping experience begins. Upstairs is hair care and styling, body care, baby products, scented candles and a great men’s care section. There is a small barbershop area and a shoe shine corner (which displays shoe care products but according to a sign you can also get your shoes properly cleaned). The men’s care section, stylishly designed in a masculine sort of way, is located in a separate corner and retails a large range of face and body care, shaving preps and aftershaves from Asian and Western brands.
What I also liked was the freestanding sink (fully equipped with complimentary tissues) so that customers can try out lotions and body washes straight away. This is an ingenious idea – I saw a similar thing at the @cosme beauty stores in Tokyo – since it encourages the customers to try out products and, even more importantly, linger in the store. In between the barbershop area and the sink is a hair styling bar: mirrored shelves, a selection of styling products to try out and a range of hair driers and curling irons plugged in and ready to be used. You can try out a new gel or spray, touch up your hairstyle or see what you look like with curly hair.
Then things become non-beauty: a shelf full of functional foods and supplements, a section with “K-Food” – popular confectionery, drinks and snacks (mostly Korean brands) – and a branch of Korean café chain Twosome Coffee. Around the corner from the Twosome counter are shelves and cases with stylish earphones, digital and electronic gadgets and colourful mobile phone accessories.
The café area also features the “Lee Min Ho Photo Zone”, a corner of the room with a photo studio set-up. The Photo Zone shows a background picture of Korean celebrity Lee Min Ho sitting at a café table. Identical tables and chairs are placed in front of this backdrop, so you can sit next to your idol and have your picture taken and presumably upload it to Instagram or Facebook straight away! I’ve read that this particular Twosome Coffee outlet has featured different Korean celebrities since it opened three years ago. Lee Min Ho is the current flavor of the month. Check out the Lee Min Ho merchandise in the lower middle pic.
You must admit, Twosome and Olive Young know their target clientele! The Lifestyle Experience Center does exactly what it says: it an exciting and fun shopping destination. You can buy a new lipstick, try out a fragrance or check the latest beauty launches. Then, after quickly fixing your hair at the styling bar, you can meet your friends in the café for a round of green tea lattes. The opportunity to take a picture with Lee Min Ho is an added bonus.
I think it’s a great retail concept. VisitSeoul, the official tourism agency of the city, even lists the Olive Young Lifestyle Experience Center as a recommended location in the “Hallyu See & Do” section of its website.