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[From the Scene] Olive Young’s docent tour wows K-beauty enthusiasts

Foreign shoppers make up 90% of visitors to Myeong-dong branch

June 23, 2024 - 15:58 By Kim Hae-yeon
Participants listen to an Olive Young staff member's instructions for its K-beauty docent program at a branch in Myeong-dong, Seoul, Wednesday. (Kim Hae-yeon/The Korea Herald)

"Imagine a library where the shelves are stocked not with books, but with the latest beauty trends, eco-friendly cosmetics and vegan options that you can try out; that's Olive Young Myeongdong Town," said Lee Yoon-jeong, a manager at a branch in Myeong-dong, Seoul, of Olive Young, the nation's largest beauty retailer owned by CJ Group, during a special docent tour Wednesday.

The Myeongdong Town branch, located in the bustling shopping district, is one of two Olive Young stores catering specifically to foreign customers. Almost 5,000 people on average visit the store each day, with some 90 percent of them coming from abroad.

As part of the Culture Ministry and Korea Tourism Organization's 2024 Korea Beauty Festival month in June, the store hosted its first docent tour program, inviting participants from countries including Mexico, Brazil, Spain and Thailand.

CJ Olive Young, the operator, promoted the event via social media, and it was soon fully booked.

"The hourlong docent program aims to attract foreign tourists not only to purchase beauty products, but also to experience curated K-beauty content," said a CJ Olive Young official.

"Depending on the response to the pilot program, we plan to make it a regular event."

Wednesday's event started with 10 participants, but other foreign shoppers in the store joined the crowd to listen attentively to Lee's explanation of product organization and get a sneak peek at some of the store's popular items.

The recently remodeled cashier desk at Olive Young Myeongdong Town branch is designed to better meet customer needs. (Kim Hae-yeon/The Korea Herald)

In April, Olive Young introduced a portable translator device capable of real-time interpretation in 16 languages at stores nationwide. Additionally, all items in the store feature product names and descriptions in English to assist foreign shoppers. Lee proudly informed customers that their multilingual staff ensures a seamless shopping experience for international customers.

"I saw this program on Instagram and applied immediately," said Berta Ros, a university student studying nutrition from Spain. "Olive Young is well known in Spain for K-cosmetics, so I primarily search for basic skin care products. However, they offer a thoughtful selection of supplements and healthy snacks, so I wanted to learn more about the snack section."

Foreign customers browse lipstick in the experience zone at an Olive Young branch in Myeong-dong, Seoul. (Kim Hae-yeon/The Korea Herald)

"I visit Olive Young multiple times a month, but this time I came to learn about how the store does product selections," said Picmic Im, an influencer in her 20s from Thailand, who lives in Seoul. "Whenever I visit the store here, I find the staff to be very knowledgeable about my needs, so I thought a docent tour would be even more productive and insightful."

Looking ahead, Olive Young plans to serve as a bridge connecting quality small and medium-sized brands' K-beauty products with foreign customers.

The retailer's strategic experiment is also driving up its sales after years of pandemic disruptions.

According to the company, sales to foreign customers during the latest "All Young Sale," its discount event earlier this month, more than doubled from the same period last year, hitting a new record. The Myeongdong Town branch topped the sales with 120 percent growth.

K-beauty docent program participants fill out a survey after an hourlong tour on Wednesday. (Kim Hae-yeon/The Korea Herald)