A quick guide to shopping in Seoul, Korea

by Paris B on · 61 comments

in Shopping,Travel

This is just a quick and easy guide for shopping in Seoul. Its based on my observations during my visit and it is by no means comprehensive so please feel free to add your input in the comments icon smile A quick guide to shopping in Seoul, Korea

Shopping for cosmetics

I stayed near the Myeongdong area, and I would highly recommend you head there for all your cosmetics shopping. The reason is simply because it has the highest concentration of Korean cosmetics brands I’ve ever seen in one place!

korea shopping2 A quick guide to shopping in Seoul, Korea

Sometimes, they are all laid out in a row, as you can see. Is it any wonder that they have to entice customers with free samples? The competition is horrendous!

In Myeongdong itself you can find most of the Korean brands you want.

korea shopping A quick guide to shopping in Seoul, Korea

Skin Food doesn’t give out samples at the door, but they are quite generous with samples when you make a purchase. I guess they are established enough that people will come to them regardless. Aritaum sells more expensive skincare from the Amore Pacific cosmetics group. You can find Laneige in here as well as Mamonde and a few other pricier brands in sets and kits. Laneige in general is slightly more affordable than it is here in Malaysia but not as much as the rest.

It’s Skin seems to be a little more elusive than the rest of the brands which are almost everywhere! You can barely turn around without bumping into TheFaceShop or Holika Holika or even Etude House.

I saw the more exclusive brands like Amore Pacific, Mamonde, Hera, Sulwhasoo and Laneige also sold at department stores like Lotte and Hyundai Department store.

korean cosmetics A quick guide to shopping in Seoul, Korea

Clockwise from Top Right: Sulwhasoo, Shiseido new serum, Hera cosmetics, AmorePacific

I realized that in most places, if you can communicate in Mandarin, there’ll be someone who can serve you. But if your primary communication language is English, you’re basically on your own. Not always a bad thing – allows you to make a quick getaway if you need to icon razz A quick guide to shopping in Seoul, Korea

At the Laneige counter at Lotte Plaza they were having a very good offer where you received a set of skincare samples with any purchase. Literally, any purchase. Too good to pass up really icon razz A quick guide to shopping in Seoul, Korea

Shopping for Clothes, Shoes and Accessories

For clothes, shoes and accessories, you can head for the markets, shopping malls or department stores. In the department stores like Hyundai and Lotte (the 2 I visited) you can find a very large selection of local brands and designers. There was a shoe sale on by a local brand Tandy, which I was told by my hosts did good shoes. They bought a couple of pairs which were on sale for about 89,000 Won (RM242). Granted, they looked good and were very comfortable. Otherwise, department store fashion is pricey. You can also shop the day away at Coex mall, which is H.U.G.E! Perfect for when it rains because its all indoors.

korea shopping7 A quick guide to shopping in Seoul, Korea

Myeongdong too have their clothes and accessories stores tucked away along each road. ITs a mind boggling array of fashion.

The option for cheaper clothing and accessories would be to go to the markets. Namdaemun Market is mostly open air, and covers a few streets. I believe there are something like 6 Gates which are the entrances to the market.

korea shopping4 A quick guide to shopping in Seoul, Korea

Take note of your gate so you don’t end up getting lost because the place is a maze! You can find clothes, shoes and loads of accessories. I stepped into a building selling accessories and there were at least 50 stalls in there with lots of very pretty inexpensive bling. If you opt to buy wholesale its cheaper but even then its not too pricey to buy just 1 item. It was very overwhelming. Namdaemun market is open only in the day so head here first so you don’t get disappointed. At night, most stalls are closed except for a few eating shops.

At night, head to Dongdaemun market. Arguably, you could head there in the day too where possibly more shops would be open, but since its touted as being open 24 hours, I had to go there at night.

korea shopping5 A quick guide to shopping in Seoul, Korea

I arrived at about 11.30pm and this was the scene that caught my eye. There are about 5-6 big stores in Dongdaemun which specialize in clothes – all kinds. In each store are stalls with all the fashionable pieces on show. I must say that it is no wonder Korean fashion is taking the world by storm. There is so much variety and choice and everything is so avant garde. I browsed around, and I believe you can bargain but I wasn’t looking to buy so I didn’t.

Shopping for Electronics

There is no better place to go than Yongsan Electronics Market. It is a huge area specializing in electronics and camera equipment so if that’s your thing, do make a day of it there. I only did a walk-though of the Yongsan electronics mall which is built over the Yongsan railway station. Imagine Low Yat Plaza and then multiply it by 10 icon razz A quick guide to shopping in Seoul, Korea I went up 2 floors and as far as my eye could see stretch rows and rows of cameras and camera equipment. All brands, all types. Anything you could possibly want. I don’t know how anyone shops in there but regulars do have their regular stores so its pretty much the same as everywhere else.

Underground shopping

I was quite interested in the underground shopping that I’d read so much about before going to Korea. I was told by my hosts that the underground shops came about to make use of the bunkers built during the war. It makes sense, but I was quite disheartened when I did see these underground shops. I went to two – Sogung-dong near my hotel and Dongdaemun.

In both, the shops mostly looked like tourist traps, selling souvenirs, tailored clothes, fake bags and clothes. There weren’t many people buying or shopping at any time of the day, and I saw that most people simply used the underground as a pathway, to get around traffic overground and to stay out of the weather.

Souvenir Shopping

korea shopping6 A quick guide to shopping in Seoul, Korea

My personal choice for souvenir shopping is the Insadong area. I went there to take a look at the place and its quite interesting because if you go down the back alleys, you find the old houses still retained with most of them turned into shops selling antiques, or restaurants. I also found that Insadong had a high concentration of souvenir shops, and it was a good place to pick up things like fridge magnets and bookmarks and the like. There were also shops selling handmade clay items which were adorable but a little pricey.

Downtown Duty Free Shopping

Korea has quite a high GST rate – about 10% so shopping duty free is probably the best way to go about buying your cosmetics. The one I went to was at Lotte Duty Free, on the top floor of Lotte Plaza. Alongside the usual brands – Lancome, Dior, Estee Lauder etc you also find the local Korean brands, including, yes all the high street brands of Etude House, Tony Moly, Its’ Skin, Holika Holika, Hanskin etc. It occupies quite a large area, and prices are quoted in USD but are cheaper than if you get them at the store, because there is no tax. I reckon you could opt to pay in Won too.

The downside is that selection is more limited. There are fewer products available but most of the key items like sheet masks, BB creams, skincare etc are available so really, its worth stopping by here to see if they have what you want. They also do give samples upon purchase, just probably less than what you’d get in the actual stores. But the tax savings more than make up for it. As an example, my friend bought a pack of 20 masks for US$16 (17,600 won) while the same items were sold in store for 20,000 Won (US$18) and the Tony Moly snail cream was US$29 but was about 5,000 won more in store. Little savings do add up if you buy in bulk (and I saw people grabbing giant bagfuls of masks!)

In the stores, don’t forget to ask for your Tax Refund. If you purchase above a certain amount, the store will process the tax refund for you which you can collect at the airport. If you buy a lot, it can work out to be quite substantial.

Department Stores

I only visited 2 department stores – Lotte and Hyundai. Lotte was having sales on and on the top floor (1 floor below duty free I think) was their sale floor where clothes, shoes and accessories were on sale. That’s where I picked up my winter coats at a steal of 50,000 Won (RM140) each. Very stylish and very warm icon smile A quick guide to shopping in Seoul, Korea

On other floors, I found prices a little high so other than browsing, I did not get anything else. They had whole floors dedicated to their own local designers and I must admit that the clothes were very fashionable and very enticing. Pricetags (despite the sale) was still very high so all I did was look and salivate from afar.

And that in a nutshell is a quick guide to shopping in Seoul. I hope this has been useful and if you have any more to add, please feel free to leave your tips in the comments icon smile A quick guide to shopping in Seoul, Korea

Paris B

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[ 61 comments… read them below or join the discussion ]

mona May 13, 2011 at 9:09 am

I’m using Skin Food… how about the price there?

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ParisB May 13, 2011 at 9:34 am

I’d hazard a guess that prices in Korea are roughly 30% less than prices here on average. Just a very rough guess of course. I’m not familiar with Skin Food prices here.

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Nikki May 13, 2011 at 9:09 am

Nice!!! I agree with you, I can get away speaking Mandarin that’s why I was able to get a good deal and get what i need :) hehehehe Gosh, I missed Korea so much after reading this post! I haven’t bought much clothing as it was really difficult to bargain with the language barrier and they gave me “tourist price!”
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ParisB May 13, 2011 at 9:35 am

Yep! I could communicate if I was buying, but when I was just browsing, I’d turn off the Mandarin switch and switch on my English only, so I wouldn’t be bugged :P Very useful! ;)

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Applegal May 13, 2011 at 9:37 am

You make me want to go!! :D Thanks for the tips!

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ParisB May 13, 2011 at 3:30 pm

I hope they’ll be helpful when you do go! :D

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rinnah
Twitter:
May 13, 2011 at 9:52 am

Mmm… you make Korea sound like a must visit place! :)
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ParisB May 13, 2011 at 3:30 pm

Well not quite must visit but its a fun visit because its all quite foreign :D

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AnT May 13, 2011 at 10:20 am

Yay Paris! Thanks for sharing this, definitely useful for me :D

Any quick guide to eating (like a glutton~ me!) in Seoul? :P

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ParisB May 13, 2011 at 3:33 pm

Honestly, I was taken around to a few eating places, but I didn’t really wander by myself. I was told that the better restaurants had relocated to outside of the city because rental is too high in the city. From experience, the food is pretty decent in any restaurant we stopped in. If in doubt, look for a restaurant chain called Nol Boo that serves barbeque meats (just like we get here) and they are decent enough :) Also, make sure you try makgeolli (korean rice wine) which is very light and a little fizzy but is a delicious accompaniment to barbequeues :D

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AnT May 15, 2011 at 11:37 am

Yay! Thanks Paris :D

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xin
Twitter:
May 13, 2011 at 10:39 am

love insadong too! :D i didn’t buy any clothes at all coz the choices were too overwhelming, and i got dizzy after only 30 mins touring the mall @@

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ParisB May 13, 2011 at 3:33 pm

Same!!! And the sizes looked very small, I felt intimidated :P

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Denise
Twitter:
May 13, 2011 at 10:52 am

Such an informative post Paris! Yours and Nikki’s guides will be invaluable to me when I finally go to Korea :) Thank you!
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ParisB May 13, 2011 at 3:34 pm

Thank you Denise. Glad to know that it may be of some help! :)

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Issa May 13, 2011 at 11:31 am

oh, the first photo was heaven! hope i get the chance to go there someday! nice post!

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ParisB May 13, 2011 at 3:34 pm

I’m very sure you will! :D Thanks!

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shannen May 13, 2011 at 11:35 am

i miss korea :(

underground shopping as i remembered was ok in Jeju. But that’s about 6-7 years ago, might be different now.

And they speak mandarin now! Those day I can only communicate with body language and normally almost all the SA will come assist.

Itaewon is a nice place too. Prices are cheap to target the nearby u students. There was this huge Toda Cosa store, just like Sasa.

Bargaining is allowed at Dongdaemun. But not too low, I think about 20% max. Else they will shoo you away.

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ParisB May 13, 2011 at 3:35 pm

Thanks for sharing Shannen. Glad I didn’t spend my time bargaining because I’m so used to the big price slashes we usually indulge in this part of the world ;) I must say that the SAs are usually quite friendly and helpful, even if they can’t understand you. The one person who could speak English convinced me to buy so many things :P

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LeGeeque May 13, 2011 at 12:27 pm

I want a new coat laaaa… Everytime I say won’t buy a black/grey/navy coat, I end up buying one. :( And I think the winter in Korea is colder than the one in Melbourne so getting one from Korea will be perfect.

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ParisB May 13, 2011 at 3:35 pm

This winter, you shall buy a red coat! :D Don’t go down the neutral route :)

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milktea May 13, 2011 at 12:55 pm

omg! I wanna go there already! ;-) Every place looks like a shopping heaven! :-)

Tourism Korea owes you big! :-D

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ParisB May 13, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Haha… would love for them to sponsor me a trip ;) I have spare won I forgot about! :P

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synical
Twitter:
May 13, 2011 at 3:22 pm

Interesting read – I’ve been wondering how tourists get around if they speak little to no Korean; good to know I could get by with Mandarin, haha. But Malaysian Mandarin tak berapa laku outside the SEA region, IMO :P

All that said, still not terribly compelled to go to there myself; I’d rather go places where English is still the lingua franca.
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ParisB May 13, 2011 at 3:39 pm

I do prefer visiting English speaking places too – but those tend to be so much pricier to visit :P That said, Korea was a nice place, but I’m not sure how soon I’d go back, if I ever to!

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Uruz May 13, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Paris,

I’m curious about one thing. Did the South Korean SAs know that u were a foreigner just by looking at u ?

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ParisB May 13, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Actually no. They mostly chatted to me in Korean :P It was only when I looked uncertain, or gave that “I’m sorry I can’t understand a word you’re saying” smile that they switched to Mandarin. When that fails, they just switch back to Korean … just speaking slower LOL!

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cosmocraze
Twitter:
May 13, 2011 at 4:12 pm

hi, i’m currently in seoul and there are too many places to look. Luckily, after reading your post, now I have better idea to get the things I wanted… I went to dongdaemun but there were only the fabric mall. I didn’t see the fashion mall though… and I thought they close early… my friends who went there about 6pm had to go to nangdaemun market coz most of the shops in dongdaemun market closed… I bought hanskin bb cream from myeong dong and it’s really good…
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ParisB May 13, 2011 at 4:25 pm

Ahhh enjoy your trip! You must be having a great time :D When I was there, I found that Namdaemun closed early (by 7pm it was very quiet) while in Dongdaemun the fashion malls are ramping it up till the wee hours. I got off at Dongdaemun City stop (I think) and walked around the construction area to get to the malls – there are a few there – Migliore, Doota and I can’t remember the rest :P

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Lisa May 13, 2011 at 11:16 pm

You sure bring back fond memories. I love Dongdaemun, Myeongdon etc too. Korea sure is a shopping paradise. It opens up a whole new world of interesting finds for me from shoes, bags, apparels, accessories etc…list goes on. However still, am not too adventurous with Korea skincare and cosmetics.

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ParisB May 14, 2011 at 10:45 pm

I must say that the selection of fashion and designs available are mind boggling and very lovely! Next time I’d probably have to pay better attention

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Ana May 13, 2011 at 4:16 pm

I wish I could visit South Korea :(
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ParisB May 13, 2011 at 4:26 pm

I’m sure you will some day! :) And you’ll have a blast when you do! :)

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shah May 13, 2011 at 6:47 pm

hi Paris!

i’ve visited seoul quite a few times these couple of years, and i enjoyed it every time i was there. getting around is no problem when u hop into a cab at the hotel since the bellhops, who speak excellent english, will translate for you. some of the cab drivers have a basic speaking knowledge of english too, so that helps. otherwise, those smattering of korean you pick up from korean dramas will help you too :) the subway system is excellent, with directions also provided in english. certainly a money saver since cab fares can be expensive.

i also recommend watching the non-verbal performance “nanta”. Korean drumbeats + western performance style = great fun!

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ParisB May 14, 2011 at 10:44 pm

Thanks so much for sharing! I’d read about Nanta but didn’t make time for a show. Also thanks for te tip about taxis. I noticed they had free translation taxis where you can tell the driver you need interpretation and they put you in touch with someone who can tell them your destination in Korean. I thought that quite ingenious

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cosmocraze
Twitter:
June 13, 2011 at 12:49 pm

they will dial 120 to get inteprators… the 120 number in seoul is a convenient number to ask anything u want and they will be able to help you.
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Rainy Days and Lattes May 14, 2011 at 12:52 am

Wow, thanks for this! I may need to print this out next time I go to Korea. You really know where everything is! :)

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ParisB May 14, 2011 at 10:46 pm

Haha hope it’ll be of help! :)

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ctsoleha May 28, 2011 at 10:31 am

I wish I can go to KOREA!!! really like korean dramas
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gtndesprt June 7, 2011 at 8:28 pm

Maybe you can help me. (crossing fingers) Do you know any where in Seoul that i can buy american brand make up, ie. Revlon? i have looked in several places and nothing. I’m here in vacation and did not bring enough assuming it would be easy to find it here. I’m getting desperate… i’m one of those that NEEDS her make up! lol

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ParisB June 7, 2011 at 8:39 pm

I can’t be 100% sure but if you mean American drugstore makeup try Watsons pharmacy. They have western drugstore and asian brands.

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Mariella
Twitter:
June 22, 2011 at 6:28 pm

Because of your post…now I’m harassing my hubby to take me to Seoul. May I know which airline were you on? Cause the Air Asia X only has one flight to Seoul and it arrives at 9pm which is a pity cause you lost a good full day there.

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ParisB June 22, 2011 at 7:36 pm

I few MAS. It leaves here at midnight and you arrive in Seoul at about 7am which is excellent.

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YC September 14, 2011 at 10:45 am

Hi ParisB!

I will be heading to Seoul and would like to find out from you the location of Lotte Duty Free. I will be staying at COEX area.

Thank you!!

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ParisB
Twitter:
September 14, 2011 at 10:55 am

Hi YC – I went to the Lotte Department Store at Sogung-dong, the one attached to Lotte Hotel. The Duty Free was on the top most floors.

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dayang October 13, 2011 at 11:36 am

hi…im planning to visit korea on feb next year
just to get some guide from u based on ur experience..im a shopaholic.i loves heels and handbag.but feb is winter.are they sell those type of shoes..or only winter items?

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ParisB
Twitter:
October 13, 2011 at 5:01 pm

Hi Dayang, I’m afraid I’ve only been to Korea once and in Autumn. There were lots of choices of shoes available though from flats to heels to boots. I’m not quite sure if they’ll sell normal heels in winter, but they might. After all, its very global these days :) Happy travelling!

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Janice October 30, 2011 at 10:06 pm

Hi Paris B,

there are something i would like to ask u:)
When i bought a perfume for USD 24 in Lotte duty free shop. but after i purchased and looked at the receipt, its stated around 27200 won. I mean 1 USD = 1102 won.so what are the additional charges? there are not GST tax imposed on the goods itself.. any idea on this?

thanks you :)

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ParisB
Twitter:
October 31, 2011 at 9:59 am

Sorry Janice, I have no idea!

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Janice October 31, 2011 at 11:34 pm

is ok.:) thanks :)encountered this even at the airport , should have remembered to asked on the spot but my whole trip was always in a hurry..

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Janice November 1, 2011 at 11:22 pm

i have checked on internet, i think all the add charges are their sales/vat tax. and none of my friends including me actually went get separate refund receipt and fill up tax refund form..T.T

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Ann February 20, 2012 at 1:43 pm

Hi,

I read that you bought winter coat at Lotte at a discounted price. May I know which month were you there? I will be visiting Seoul in mid April. So I’m hoping it will be in time for the sales.
Thanks.

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Paris B
Twitter:
February 20, 2012 at 4:49 pm

I was there in April-May I think.

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merry April 4, 2012 at 8:46 am

hii… is Shiseido cheaper in korea rather than in singapore or hongkong?

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Paris B
Twitter:
April 7, 2012 at 11:50 pm

I’m afraid I don’t know as I’m not familiar with prices in Hong Kong, Singapore or Korea

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