By Rachel Lee
Amid the prolonged economic downturn, consumers have discovered organic food and men's accessories as the next must-have small luxury items.
Small luxury buyers are consumers who invest in small expensive goods such as food and accessories to satisfy their wants.
As small luxury buyers turn their attention to fresh food, online shopping malls have begun offering a variety of organic food products at reasonable prices. E-commerce giant Aunction has led the trend in organic food. In February last year, it launched an organic food section on its website. The section has 10 categories including fruit, meat and seafood, and provides useful information for issues such as agricultural food safety and quality.
"The number of single- and dual-earner households has risen over the last few years, and these households have become increasingly interested in good-quality food," said Hong Seung-woo, a manager at Interpark, one of the country's biggest online stores along with Aunction and Gmarket.
"More and more households are now buying these products on online shopping malls like Interpark. So, in addition to existing food categories, we are focusing on organic products especially for the upcoming hot summer weather." Hong added that the company saw a 64 percent increase in the sales of organic food products in the first half of this year.
"I may not be able to spend as much as before, but I have become quite carefree in opening my wallet to buy good food for myself and my family. Food is a commodity we cannot live without, so why not go for better quality food when you can't afford other stuff?" said Yoon Mi-ran, a 56-year-old housewife.
This month, Interpark launched an organic produce brand, Orbon, in affiliation with Seoul Agro-Fisheries & Food Corporation. Orbon supplies vegetables to over 860 elementary, middle and high schools in Seoul. Every day, the Orbon section on Interpark's website offers a 40 percent discount on about 300 organic products to customers and provides gifts to the first 100 customers.
Other online shopping malls and even store chains have followed suit. Lotte.com and AK Mall have introduced organic food sections with various brands.
Over the last six months sales from such brands increased by 40 percent from the same period a year ago, according to Lotte.com. For AK Mall, sales during the same period have gone up by 250 percent year-on-year. According to E-mart, the nation's biggest store chain, its fresh food sales reached 31.8 percent of total food sales this year, surpassing processed food sales, which is 30.8 percent.
Another small luxury for consumers is men's accessories. As business casual dressing has become popular among men, sales of luxury designer accessories have gone up at a fast rate.
"These days, I spend more on small fashion items instead of expensive clothes. I've found that accessories such as ties can make a difference in your overall look. Accessorizing is sometimes more effective but also more affordable. Shopping for accessories has become a habit, and I am happy with it," said Kim Jin-koo, a 31-year-old office worker.
According to Lotte Department Store, one of the nation's three biggest retailers, sales of small luxury accessories increased despite a declining in overall sales of designer brands. In particular, sales for German brand Montblanc have increased by 30 to 40 percent this year.
"We plan to continue providing tips to our consumers on how to choose the right products for their needs and wants," said a Lotte manager who declined to be named.