8 key facts about South Korea e-commerce (updated Feb 2020)

Do you know that?

  • South Korea retail e-commerce penetration (as a percentage of total retail) is third in the world?
  • South Korea’s e-commerce growth rate in 2020 is expected to be 5 times that of Japan?
  • The US is the top cross border country that South Koreans buy online from.

In this post, I will share the 2020 key facts about South Korea’s e-commerce. It is the updated version of my previous post in 2019 about the South Korea e-commerce landscape.

1. South Korea e-commerce sales is the fifth largest in the world

Retail e-commerce sales in 2019 (billions USD) in China, the US, the UK, Japan and South Korea

5th place in the world is actually remarkable given that the South Korea population ranks 28th in the world.

From e-commerce penetration (as a percentage of total retail sales) point of view, South Korea ranks 3rd in the world, with more than double Japan’s penetration.

Retail e-commerce penetration as a percentage of total retail sales 2019 in China, the US, South Korea, the UK, Japan

Interestingly, Japan’s e-commerce penetration is lower than the world average. This is amongst countries where eMarketer tracks.

2. South Korea digital buyer penetration is 2nd amongst comparable countries

Digital buyer penetration as a percentage of population 2019 in the UK, South Korea, Japan, the US, China and the world average

Some other Western European countries have slightly higher digital buyer penetration than South Korea like the Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, etc. However, their total e-commerce sales are a lot lower than South Korea’s.

3. South Korea expected e-commerce growth rate in 2020 continues to be healthy

Expected retail e-commerce growth rate 2020 in China South Korea the US the UK Japan and the world average

4. The majority of South Korea e-commerce revenue happens on mobile devices, 2nd to China amongst comparable countries

Mobile e-commerce sales penetration as a percentage of total retail e-commerce sales 2019 in China, South Korea, the UK, Japan, the US and world average

The mobile e-commerce sales growth rate in South Korea is comparable with those of China and the US

Mobile e-commerce growth rate 2020 china the US South Korea the UK Japan and world average
Most popular products sourced from domestic online retailers in South Korea (2018)

Data from export.gov 2019 report here.

6. Top B2C e-commerce platforms in South Korea are all local players

Top B2C e-commerce platforms in South Korea (% of respondents made purchases) in 2019

7. Major buying holidays in South Korea

They are Chu-Seok (the 15th day of the 8th lunar month), Seollal (Lunar New Year’s Day), Parents’ Day (May 8th) and Children’s Day (May 5th)

The 15th day of the 8th lunar month is the mid-autumn festival in many Sinic countries like China, Vietnam or Singapore. From Wikipedia, it is a different celebration in South Korea though.

8. The US and Europe are the top 2 cross border retail e-commerce sales that South Koreans are buying from in 2019

Cross border retail e-commerce sales in South Korea 2019 by country (%)

From a retail cross border e-commerce growth rate perspective, China and Europe are leading the rest.

Year on year growth rate of cross border retail e-commerce sales in South Korea 2018 - 2019

That’s all from me.




  1. I am doing a research project for APEC on e-commerce in Korea and how Korea’s braodband infrastructure and policies help promote e-commerce. APEC has a special interest in the role of SMEs as vendors, especially in overseas markets. Would you be available for a short interview either by video call or by email? I will reference your site in my report to APEC. The Qs I am particularly interested to ask you are:
    1. How many Korean vendors online are SMEs?
    2. What is driving their going online? (in this regard, has COVID-19 been an accelerator?)
    3. What steps, if any, has the Korean Govt taken to encourage SMEs to sell online?
    4. What are the main obstacles for SMEs selling online? For example, payment systems?

    Best regards

    John Ure

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