This post will show you the most useful websites for your Korean online shopping fix.
I recently moved back to South Korea after five years of slow travel and had to furnish an entire house, buy groceries and become a functioning member of society again.
I’ve categorized the websites by:
- Discount Retailers
- Pharmacy and Cosmetics
- And more!
Let’s dive right in!
Korean online shopping was always fast.
Even in 2006 before Amazon took over America, you could order furniture on Gmarket and get it in a few days.
Selection and prices have only gotten better in the last five years.
Foreign groceries were a different story though.
In my day, you’d have to journey to a foreign market in Itaewon if you wanted something besides Korean groceries like lamb, mac and cheese, Japanese ramen or even long grain rice.
The selection wasn’t great and you’d often come home with wilted cilantro and overpriced limes. Dark times indeed.
Now you can get all these and more from the comfort of your apartment.
With new entrants such as SSG and Market Kurly, fresh grocery delivery to your door is only a few clicks away. They might even arrive the same day if you follow my advice below.
You might be asking yourself, “why don’t I just go to the grocery store?”
Why online shopping in Korea is key to your survival
Time and energy in Korea are scarce resources, especially if you’re living in Seoul. Going to the grocery store is often more expensive and always more exhausting (Costco runs, while fun, are draining) than shopping online. You can save that precious energy for fun things like going out and sightseeing.
One of the risks of living in South Korea is getting Korean food fatigue. Don’t get me wrong, I love Korean food. I eat it at least four times a week, but I also enjoy every other cuisine in the world. That fifth time is the one that gets you. Having a variety of food is one of the best ways to stave off homesickness.
There are some caveats though.
How Online Shopping in Korea is different
When shopping in your home country, you’re probably used to filtering by highest rating, buying the first thing in your price range and calling it a day.
Korean shopping websites are a bit different from what you’re used to. Instead of filtering by highest rating, you have options like:
- What’s popular (인기순 or 랭킹순)
- Most reviewed (number of reviews or 리뷰 많은순)
- Highest price (높은 가격순)
- Lowest price (낮은 가격순)
This may not seem like a big deal, but considering the fact that you often have to type in Korean and can’t copy and paste text, you might be shopping all day.
To make matters worse, reviews are often bought with discount coupons and Starbucks Americanos.
You could spend hours in the shopping blackhole.
Not to worry. There are ways around this.
Here are some tips that will make the experience worth it.
How to shop online better in Korea
- It’s a good idea to batch your shopping. It takes a bit of mental energy to find the things you want, so make sure to get as much done as possible at once.
- Use your previous purchase cart (주문내역) to make things more efficient. I try to cycle my groceries every two weeks so I get completely different items.
- Time your shopping on less popular days like Tuesday and Thursday. I find that doing this tends to speed up delivery time (you can sometimes get same day delivery this way) and provide more options.
- Just buy it. When shopping for groceries, a few items will be unavailable. The temptation is to wait a few hours and see if they show up. But then something else usually runs out. The online shopping gods are fickle but generous. The key is to just pull the trigger and move on. You can try again next time. Just remember that it’s still better than going to the grocery store.
- The more you spend on groceries, the less you spend on eating out. Dining in South Korea can get expensive, especially with non-Korean food. Recent minimum wage increases have also led to rising prices.
- Open two or three sites and search them at the same time to compare prices and availability.
If you’re strapped for time, just search on one of these comparison shopping sites. You’ll get cross-platform results from multiple vendors.
There are some unique and useful shopping websites that can only be found in Korea.
Some of these websites won’t be available in your country. Access every Korean site with VPN here!
Best Korean Shopping Websites for Groceries
SSG is operated by ShinSeGae Group, and it stands for ㅅㅅㄱ (쓱), meaning “slip away/leave quickly and quietly”. It’s the ultimate introvert’s shopping experience, since you don’t have to interact with anyone.
As of 2021, SSG has English and Chinese versions you can select. They’re very limited though, so it helps to read Hangeul if you want to use this service. And believe me, you do.
This is my go-to site for grocery shopping. I’ve tried other ones like Lotte and HomePlus, but they can’t compare in terms of service and selection.
You can choose items from emart or Traders (Costco without the membership fee), including No Brand (low-cost, no frills food) or Peacock (high-quality meal kits) on their official website or app.
Traders actually sells some of the better bread in Korea for the price. It’s not spectacular, but it isn’t sickly sweet like what you get at Paris Baguette or Tous les Jours. Bread comes in bulk, so just store it in the freezer and toast some when you need your gluten fix.
The interface is disorienting, like many Korean websites, so there’s a slight learning curve.
You also have to check which stores you want to purchase from, which can get confusing. There’s an additional delivery charge for every store you order from. Make sure to check the “이마트쓱배송” box to get everything at once with no additional delivery charges.
After purchasing, they’ll leave the package quietly (쓱) in the time slot you select.
Stealing packages in South Korea isn’t a thing and ice packs are included with perishables, so no need to worry about being away when your delivery arrives.
Market Kurly (마켓컬리)
Market Kurly is billed as being created for millennials who’ve given up on the dream of home ownership and just want to enjoy their daily life (crazy right?).
But in reality, it’s for anyone who wants high quality goods that aren’t made by giant corporations. So, it’s perfect if you’re looking for gourmet groceries directly from farms and small businesses.
The prices may be high, but they’re still cheaper than eating out.
As of 2021, Market Kurly only has a Korean version. So even if you’re looking for a product with an English name, you’ll have to type it in Korean.
Don’t let this discourage you, because there are some really cool items like:
- Spanish pickles
- Belgium Hot Chocolate
- Pickled Jalapenos
- Greek olive oil
- Italian flour, pasta and tomato paste
If you live in Seoul, Incheon or Gyeonggi-do and order by 11PM, your delivery will arrive at your door before 7AM the following day.
For other areas, you need to order before 8PM to get your items before midnight the next day.
They even make an effort to minimize packaging.
Best Online Discount Retailers in Korea
Coupang covers the entire country and carries just about every household item you can imagine.
Delivery (택배) was always fast in Korea, but Coupang cranked things up a notch with Rocket Delivery (로켓배송). It guarantees that you get your packages the next day, even when ordering at midnight.
The two 10kg dumbbells I ordered on Sunday night arrived at my door the next morning. They were ready before I was to work out.
The first site I used in 2006 to buy furniture.
It’s still going strong despite fierce competition. Gmarket has some exclusive items that they’ve sourced over the years, including locally made goods.
It’s still worth a visit to compare with other sites.
Best Korean Classified Websites for Used Goods
An oldie but goodie, especially if you live in or around Seoul.
It’s still the first place to check for preloved goods. There are also job and apartment listings.
You can often find “leaving the country packages” with scorching hot items like PS4s, Nintendo Switches and air purifiers.
For everyone else living in the southern half of Korea, Koreabridge is for you.
It’s especially great for expats in Busan.
You can find the same “moving sales” like on Craigslist.
Karrot Market (당근마켓)
당근 means carrot in Korean, but it’s actually short for ‘당신 근처의 마켓’, meaning the market near you.
It’s basically Craigslist for Koreans, but with a lot more variety.
The biggest difference is that it uses your location data to limit searches to sellers within a 7km radius.
This is actually an app, but you can check out their site below.
Best Furniture Shopping Websites
I bought most of my furniture on a combination of Coupang and Gmarket, but these sites have some unique options.
One tier above Daiso. They offer stylish designs that you would put out in front of guests.
For better quality, look for items made in Korea.
Best Online Pharmacies and Cosmetics
I remember in the late 2000s when these started popping up on every corner like mushrooms. I would go just to buy Snyder’s Pretzels.
Now they have a pretty good online store.
Olive Young uses a point-system to offer discounts, but this has been devalued a lot recently.
Memebox is another place where you can find cosmetics and grooming products.
There’s a Korean, U.S. and Taiwanese version too.
Best Real Estate and Rental Sites
The following have better app versions, but you can check out some listings online.
Zigbang is the top real estate app in Korea and can save you a lot of legwork if you plan on moving. Real estate agencies post their listings on it, so you get a wide selection of rooms and neighborhoods.
I used it recently to find a place and it was a lifesaver.
You can search by dwelling type, such as 아파트 (apartment), 빌라/투룸+ (villa/two rooms+), 원룸 (studio), and 오피스텔 (officetel).
After selecting the type, you can either 지도로 찾기 (find on the map) or 지하철역으로 찾기 (find by subway station).
Then, you can filter more, with choices like 월세 (monthly rent with deposit, usually 1-year contracts) or 전세 (lease by large deposit without paying monthly rent, usually for a 2-year contract).
You can 매물보기 (see listings) and contact realtors through the app, message or call.
Pretty much the same as Zigbang. You can find different listings here, so check both apps for more options.
I used both when I was searching for a place to get a more complete picture of my area.
Make sure to watch out for 허위매물 (false houses) that realtors use as bait. I ran into a few of these and eventually started avoiding those agents.
You can also report them if you’d like.
Entertainment and Tickets
Daum Webtoon (다음웹툰)
Free entertainment is always a good thing. And webtoons are a great way to kill some time when you’re waiting for the subway.
Daum invented the concept of webtoons back in 2003. Now, they’re even being made into K-dramas and movies.
Daum tends to prefer more mature themes, but are generally safe for work.
You can choose webtoons by TOP, 연재 (currently being serialized), 기다무 (free if you wait), 완결 (completed series) and PICK.
Naver Webtoon (네이버웹툰)
Naver may not have been the first to make webtoons, but they’ve become the leading content host.
Their platform and some popular webtoons are also available in English. The interface is intuitive because it shows daily webtoons from Monday through Sunday, new (신작) and completed series (완결).
Naver Webtoon updates weekly and you can read everything for free unless you want to view something in advance (미리보기).
Best Electronics Sites
You can find most electronics on the discount retailer sites above, but it never hurts to shop around.
HiMart specializes in electronics and offers some good deals. There’s no English site, but you can search by model number.
Best Health Site
The air quality in South Korea has gradually deteriorated over the years.
It wasn’t so bad in the 2000s when I first arrived.
Back then, it was mostly yellow dust in Spring (황사) from China, but now a lot of the pollution is locally sourced. I highly recommend getting an air purifier if you plan on staying for a while.
AirVisual lets you know when to mask up or avoid going out.
You can also try living down south for better air.
Background info on shopping in Korea
Online shopping in Korea is great for the consumer, but not so much for the workers. There have been recent cases, especially during the pandemic, of delivery personnel dropping dead from exhaustion.
Some apartment buildings hang signs with friendly messages saying, “it’s ok to be late” and “take your time”. Others give out coffee, water and snacks to drivers.
I make it a point never to complain about a package being late (I consider something incredibly fast if it arrives within a few days). It’s very stressful for a driver when they get a complaint that can negatively affect their income.
Please be kind to your delivery person.
Did we miss anything?
These websites are vital if you live in Korea.
You might find them a bit tricky to use at first, but they pay dividends once you figure them out.
Let us know your favorite Korean shopping websites in the comments.
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