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The generation making Lovely Market so lovely: Offline event sees 60,000 customers per day, mostly teenagers

Dec 10,2019
CEO Kim Dong-hwa, left, and director Choi Jae-won run Lovely Market, which attracts up to 60,000 mostly teenage visitors for a single event. The market specializes in clothes and accessories that go well with school uniforms. Kim covers his face with the signature pose of the Lovely Market customers because he wants to maintain his mysterious character to his customers. [KIM SANG-SEON]
From left: The Lovely Market webpage offers counseling events for teenage customers, as well as highlighting the most fashionable attendees to a recent market event. [SCREEN CAPTURE]
The Lovely Market at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, central Seoul, in February. [FLEAPOP]
Forget millennials. A new generation is on its way up, and the world’s market researchers and observers are working out ways to attract this next wave of consumers, known as Generation Z.

Generation Z refers to teenagers and people in their early 20s who were born between 1995 and 2005 and are considered emerging consumers who will fill the void of millennials in global companies.

Generation Z was first mentioned by the media in 2015, the New York Times being one of the first. The newspaper spared pages to signal the advent of the new generation, citing that Gen Z was ready to steal the spotlight.

With an outpouring of reports and analyses on the new generation, companies in and outside the country have been keeping themselves busy by coming up with products and marketing strategies that can hook their new target shoppers.

A local company called Fleapop already has a head start in this race. The company is the organizer of Lovely Market, an offline market that’s held every two months and targets Generation Z as a place to do their clothes and accessory shopping.

Despite the name, Lovely Market is no neighbourhood gathering. One day of the market alone attracts up to 60,000 shoppers.

Much of its success is credited to director Choi Jae-won and CEO Kim Dong-hwa of Fleapop.

Choi opened her online shopping mall when she was 16. After the business began to flourish, she started recruiting other sellers who were also teenagers and together they opened Lovely Market in 2014. Choi was just 19.

The market’s main items were sweatshirts and accessories that pair well with school uniforms. The prices ranged between 10,000 won ($8.50) and 30,000 won. The market went viral among teenagers and it attracted between 2,000 and 3,000 customers for a single event.

Choi met Kim in early 2016 right after she had wrapped up the 22nd Lovely Market that was held in a club located near Hongik University, western Seoul. Kim was working at the club as an administrator.

Kim saw Lovely Market’s potential. He immediately quit his job and joined Choi at Fleapop.

Ever since then, the company has been growing.

Between four and five staff members used to open the market in a small space that was a mere 33 square meters (355 square feet). Now, the market has become big enough to fill up venues like Dongdaemun Design Plaza in central Seoul or Bexco in Busan.

The majority of Lovely Market’s customers are teenagers. Hence the market tends to showcase brands that are created by Gen Z entrepreneurs, who know their customers best.

Product descriptions also target teenagers with trendy slang that is commonplace in their vernacular.

Kim said, “Generation Z puts priority on expressing their thoughts. They also love to get together with people who share the same interests. In order to approach them, you should respect their taste.”

At KakaoTalk, a smartphone messaging app, there are three group chats that were all voluntarily set up by Lovely Market customers.

Kim often spends three to four hours a day messaging in these chat sessions with his customers. It is part of his daily routine. In the chat rooms, Kim goes by the username Fleapop.

Sometimes Kim meets his online friends offline. The other day, he spontaneously arranged a meeting with some teenagers who were using the same chat room as him. They ate tteokbokki, or rice cakes covered in red pepper sauce, together.

“A lot of people ask me how to gather Generation Z. I tell them what to do, but they don’t really put it into action,” said Kim with a laugh.

Meanwhile, Choi, who was born in 1996 and is a member of Gen Z herself, is responsible for making up the list of products that will be up for sale at the market.

“Generation Z loves something new. They are interested in what others are up to and what others are wearing, but they don’t want to look like everybody else,” said Choi. “They prefer design to brands. I usually get inspirations [for the lineup of products] from some products that are gaining popularity on SNS.”

Prices of Lovely Market products vary from 500 won to 30,000 won, which makes it affordable for teenagers. The market was able to offer lower prices thanks to sellers who discounted their products because they see the market as a place where they could promote their brands rather than considering it purely as a money making medium.

Just like Kim, Choi is eager to communicate with her customers. Even when Lovely Market is not open, she introduces products through various platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.

“In the beginning, most of my followers were interested in me, but now I see more people who want to know more about Lovely Market itself,” said Choi.

“When I do live stream, I sometimes put a cushion compact on the desk to check my face with the mirror in the compact. Then some ask me where the compact comes from and then I begin to talk about the cosmetic product. The compact is not a product that I intend to sell, but we chat about it and become close with each other by talking about this and that.”

As Lovely Market is well received, its loyal regulars develop a bond and call themselves Lovely Market mates. They promote products from the market by writing positive reviews online.

Now the market is seeking new ventures such as selling exclusive products from certain brands such as Siesta, launched by popular fashion model Joo Woo-jae, and clothing from FCMM, which has a huge following among teenagers for its fleeces and sweatshirts.

The market also functions as a place where clothing brands can communicate with their customers. Fashion brand Team Zero prepared dance performances for those who visit the market.

Making an e-payment system of its own is another one of Lovely Market’s achievements. Teenagers have a difficult time getting approved for credit cards or debit cards and organizers were worried about them carrying, and potentially losing, cash in the middle of the crowded market venue. Thus the company came up with a new payment system called LoMa Pay.

The e-payment system also helps customers and sellers get a good grip on their shopping and sales history.

“I saw a customer who wanted to return the thing she had purchased, but she didn’t remember where she bought it from [of all the hundreds of sellers.] So I came up with the payment system to help customers easily know their shopping history while the sellers could have a clear picture of their sales,” said Kim.

In collaboration with BGF Retail, the company which runs convenience store chain CU, people who want to visit Lovely Market can charge their smartphones with money at 13,000 branches of CU across the nation starting April.

Another imminent plan for Lovely Market is expanding its business from offline to online.

“There have been many requests for making an online shopping platform for those who can’t make it to the offline market. In addition, we will expand the amount of private brand products of the company such as Loli Day and Pici Berry in the near future,” Kim added.

Loli Day is the private beauty product brand of Lovely Market while Pici Berry is the name for the company’s accessories brand.

BY YOON KYUNG-HEE [estyle@joongang.co.kr]