I bought a 19-inch Samsung Sens 25 Desktop Replacement Computer a few months ago in Seoul. Samsung has labeled this computer a desktop replacement rather than a lap top because of its size and the lack of a battery. A battery was deemed impractical for a computer of this size and I agree. I have gone ahead and put a CD next to the screen to give the reader some idea of how big this computer is. The computer is impressive. When people walk into the office tel I live in Daejeon, the first thing they notice is the computer and always the comment is “The computer is so big!” I thought it might be fun to take the behemoth to the local coffee house and hopefully get a little attention. So I started shopping for a computer bag. Common sense suggested that the place I bought the computer would have a computer bag for the computer. Nope! I then checked out every electronic store in Daejeon where I live in Korea.
The largest bag I could find in Daejeon was a 17-inch bag in Costco. No luck in Daejeon!
I checked out the COEX Mall (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coex_mall). One store had a huge variety of computer bags but the largest one was a 17-inch bag. I then checked out Yongsan Electronics Arcade (http://www.visitseoul.net/jsp/english/buy/shop_02_02.jsp?template_id=146&info_id=4020000033&onloadset1_num=2&onloadset2_num=21), the largest electronic market in Seoul and actually gigantic. 5,000 shops but no luck! One thing I have noticed in Seoul, the larger markets like Yongsan, Dongdaemun (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dongdaemun_Market) and Namdaemun (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Namdaemun_Market) have tons and tons of stores but they all sell the same things for more or less the same price. I have lived in Taipei for seven years and much smaller markets in Taipei will in fact have more consumer options. The area around Taipei Station has all sorts of nooks and crannies where stuff you didn’t even know existed is sold. I would say the variety of consumer goods in and around Taipei Station is much greater than Dongdaemun and Namdaemun put together despite the fact that each of these Korean markets alone is in fact much larger than the market place area around Taipei Station. I got online and found there is a US based online store that does offer the bag but does not deliver to Korea where the computers are made. Talk about irony!
I think my experience is illustrative of a larger observation I have of Korea from a consumer point of view. Samsung is into housing, fashion, you name it but they don’t make a computer bag for their core product, computers. Companies in other countries focus on their core products. Can you imagine Hewlet Packard running an apartment complex or selling suits? Can you also imagine Hewlet Packard creating a computer but forgetting to make a computer bag to go with the computer? There is another giant conglomerate in Korea called Lotte that does the same thing as Samsung. Lotte runs everything from malls to hamburger joints and also runs apartment complexes just like Samsung.
There is vertical integration at the expense of horizontal invention. Secondly, there is an illusion of consumer choice in Korea that upon closer examination is false. There is size without variety. I think you can make more money by selling something no one else sells rather than selling something everyone sells. Koreans prefer copying to invention.
There are two giant hypermart chains in Korea: Homever (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homever) and E-mart (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-mart) but they basically sell the same stuff. The hypermarts are huge but the international section is in fact much smaller than what you would find in a medium sized store in any number of other Asian countries such as Thailand and Taiwan much less Japan. For example, you can’t get canned beans in either chain. There is a rumor that E-Mart is slightly cheaper but this is debated among Koreans.
There is no attempt by the two hypermart chains to carve out a niche market. This would be the equivalent of Walmart and Target being almost identical in price and goods offered. Target is up market compared to Walmart but there is no such differentiation in the Korean retail market. This is something long time expats to Korea express over and over again in many different ways. You can get also get a lot of international stuff in other Asian cities such as Bangkok, Hong Kong, Shanghai and even Taipei that are not available in Seoul much less smaller cities in Korea. Koreans that have not lived abroad have a very hard time understanding what the expats in Korea are talking about. Koreans who have lived abroad get it. One saying you do hear over and over again among expats in Korea is “Korea is very Korean”.
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