Single-person households on the rise
Businesses keen to meet their demands
Korean society has traditionally been group-oriented, and therefore the single-oriented lifestyle commonly seen in the West was rarely found here, even a decade ago. If people were to eat alone at restaurants, they would inevitably become self-conscious and feel like an outsider.
But today, dining, going to the movie theater or taking a trip alone has become increasingly common.
Analysts say this is due to the steady rise of single-person households. According to Statistics Korea, single-households constituted 9.1 percent of the total in 1990, 12.9 percent in 1995, 15.7 percent in 2000, 20.2 percent in 2005 and 24.2 percent in 2010.
Such a rise is attributed to the increasing number of young singles in their 20s and 30s who leave their parents’ homes to live independently, as well as people who defer marriage or choose not to get married.
There are also those who live alone after getting divorced and some widowed seniors who live by themselves.
The number of one-person households, which now exceeds 4 million, is estimated to spend some 50 trillion won every year. Working singles have high purchasing power, and so an exclusive term "single-sumer" has been coined in Korean, referring to the high-income single consumers.
Hence, businesses are actively forming marketing strategies and launching products targeting them as customers.
Businesses have started offering smaller products for one-person households. They range from mini ovens, mini vacuum cleaners to 3-kilogram washing machines. But these appliances are now evolving from merely being small in size, to including enhanced functions.
Consultant and columnist Kim Yong-sub, author of “Life Trend 2013,” dedicates a whole chapter to singles and their consumption patterns. According to him, “premium mini products” are the new hot items.
“Former products for first-generation singles, which were inexpensive because they were smaller or had simplified functions, are now transforming into premium mini products, which are targeted at high-income singles,” Kim says in his book.
“Temporary singles who plan to get married do not need expensive products, but as more individuals give up on marriage or indefinitely defer it, their demand for high-priced, quality products has increased,” he says.
One such example is a computer monitor that has TV reception functions. While TV models in the market are rarely smaller than 30 inches diagonally, the PC industry is launching smaller computer monitors that can also serve as TVs. This is because singles in general lack space for a large screen TV in their studio apartments, and because having one product assume two functions is simply more efficient.
Groceries, ready-made meals
Retail stores and supermarkets are breaking down the size of packaged groceries to meet the needs of those who live alone. As they have limited space in their small refrigerators and do not consume large amounts, stores have been providing smaller packaged items, especially for fruit and vegetables. An example is watermelons sold in halves and quarters.
E-mart has been selling packaged meat, vegetables and fruit in small amounts, priced at 990 won. According to the retail store, the 990-won items took up 20 percent of the vegetable corner’s sales last year.
Lotte Supermarket, in response to the growing demand of smaller packaged items, increased the number of such items from 744 in 2010 to 1,112 in 2011. According to Lotte.com, the sale of smaller packaged groceries has been increasing by 10 percent every month.
Ready-made meals have also been diversified, targeting busy working singles who have little time to cook. Among other popular items are packages with fresh ingredients, as well as sauces and spices for a single portion. Convenience stores are also offering a wide range of lunch boxes, as well as sandwiches and salads.
Delivery service CJ GLS has started offering a service through which customers can send parcels without having to wait for a delivery man to come to their homes and pick it up. Such services are bound to come in handy for those living alone.
Customers can put their parcels, which are collected at 2 p.m. daily, in storage lockers in designated areas. Payments to use the lockers can be made by credit card, T-money transportation card or cash. Lockers are now available for use at 44 apartment complexes in the nation, as well as at Seoul subway stations for lines 1 to 8.
Many singles who have more leisure time due to fewer family obligations take up traveling as a pastime. While they may enjoy company, going solo is an attractive option for those who wish to avoid unnecessary hassles.
According to Korean online travel and accommodation reservation website Interpark Tour, the number of reservations for solo trips for July 2012 grew by 22 percent from the same month a year ago.
Accordingly, travel agencies have been focusing on meeting the demands of single travelers in their package deals.
Existing travel packages had shown little consideration for singles, charging extra for single rooms. However, travel agency Webtour’s “Macau Single Pack” has all its accommodations designated as single rooms, and single travelers are also free to change their itinerary.
Analysts say that increasing numbers of single-person households and the growing single-oriented culture will continue to provide new opportunities for businesses which are able to read trends and respond accordingly.