How to Shop S. Korea (Myeong-dong) | Tips to Save Time + Money
Before my trip to S. Korea, I tried googling “how to shop korea/myeong-dong.” Nothing useful came up. If you’ve been there before then you know that street is crazy. It’s filled with shops and people, and the stores are repetitive! It’s easy to feel lost and overwhelmed by all of it. You’ll also realize that a lot of road shop brands are everywhere so you’re not restricted to Myeong-dong. With so many locations, where do you go to get the best deal? Having been to S. Korea twice now, I’ve got a few shopping tips that I think are helpful.
1. Do your homework
Before your trip, research the items you want to buy and make a list so you know the price difference. Sometimes there isn’t a significant cost savings to warrant purchasing in Korea and having to carry it back home. That’s added weight and space in your luggage that could’ve been used for something else. It’ll also help when you shop Duty Free so you know if it’s worth buying or not. And this brings me to my next tip!
2. Shop duty free first
Shop duty free first. Why? Well, first off you won’t have to deal with the tax refund process. Secondly, *90% of the time you get a better deal shopping duty free vs. outside shops. Thirdly, it’s just way more convenient as everything is in one place. Let me give you an example. I wanted to buy the Hera UV Mist Cushion at the Lotte department store. The counter downstairs was selling them for 55,000 won, which is roughly $50. I got mine at Duty Free for $34. Another example: Sulwhasoo skincare set at their flagship store was 120,000 won (~$111) and duty free price was $86. (I paid 120,000 won... sigh) P/S: some items duty free sell only in bulk (like Papa Recipe sheet masks) so don't expect to be able to buy everything in singles.
3. Always have your passport/flight information handy
Whether you’re shopping at a duty free shop or at shops that give tax refunds, you need your passport. If you shop at duty free they will need to see your e-ticket for flight departure information.
4. Get a map of Myeong-dong
If you’re going to shop Myeong-dong I highly advise you to get a map. There are information guides stationed all throughout Myeong-dong to provide assistance, and they have maps that show all the stores in the area. There are lots of side streets and alleys so having a map is extremely helpful to guide you around (and to prove to your partner that you didn't go down that street yet hehe).
5. If you see it and you like it, then get it
Once you set foot in Myeong-dong you’ll notice the same shops over and over again. You’ll see something like 3 Etude Houses in the same block. It’s literally shopping spam. You might think they’re all the same, but annoyingly not. They’ll all offer the company wide promos (like 20% off foundations and lipsticks), but within each store are other promos that may or may not be in the other. WTF, right? I went to 2 Aritaums in the same day, one was offering 20% off eye shadows and the other one didn’t. Grrr. I also missed my 10+10 sheet mask deal at Innisfree and I’m still kicking myself for that.
This same rule applies for department store shopping. There are multiple Lotte Duty Free locations. I happened to drop by one in Gangnam to scope out prices, and I spotted the limited edition Hera cushion with some extras for 67,000 won. I wanted it, but decided to save it for my shopping trip at the Lotte in Myeong-dong. Mistake! When I arrived in Myeong-dong, they didn’t carry it and when asked they had no idea what I was talking about. I even had a shopping card that showed them the product and price, but they just said “sorry, we don’t sell that.” Sad. Face.
6. Shop outside of Myeong-dong
You know how I said road shops (ie. Clio, Aritaum, Etude House, etc.) are everywhere? Don’t feel pressured to buy everything in Myeong-dong! It’s a fun experience, but you’ll soon realize you’re shopping among fellow tourists who are buying in bulk. You’ll run into a lot of “sold out” stickers and walk out the store disappointed. When I shopped in Hongdae, Gangnam, etc. there was always stock and they were more generous with the free samples. Also kicking myself for not shopping in Busan. FYI- Base prices are the same across the road shops.
7. Do all your shopping in one go for best tax refund
This ties in with the do your homework tip. When you find out where to buy your goodies, try to buy them all in one go. Like the one stop shop idea! You’ll get a better tax refund, have less receipts to deal with, and most importantly you’ll have a happier shopping experience. Note: You must spend a minimum of 30,000 won to qualify for tax refund. Combining receipts will not work.
8. Cash in your tax refund in the city
It’s super convenient to get your tax refund now so why not cash in and spend it? Most importantly, it’s less stressful than having to deal with it at the airport!
9. Bring cash
Street vendors and underground shopping malls take cash. Some underground shops will accept card, but if you pay cash you’ll get a discount.
10. Water and snacks
Shopping is a workout! This one seems obvious, but it’s easy to forget about thirst and hunger when so many shops and bright lights surround you. :)
11. Don’t bring your husband or boyfriend
I warned Kevin that I was going all out shopping this trip, but I guess part of him didn’t really believe me. He very kindly accompanied me on nearly all my shopping trips, but in the end he needed a day to himself watching Mr. Robot in the hotel.
12. Shop duty free online and save time
I didn’t learn this one until it was time to leave S. Korea. Lotte provides online Duty Free shopping that allows you to place orders up to 30 days before your departure. They also offer all sorts of promos and coupons that will save you at least $10 on your shopping! If only I knew about this earlier it would’ve saved so much time and energy! You can conveniently pick up your order at pickup counters inside the airport. Seriously, S. Korea is just all about shopping. They make it so easy! Side note- I believe Shinsegae also offers similar services, but I only mentioned Lotte in detail because it was advertised everywhere.
S.Korea is a shopping paradise and it’s easy to get overwhelmed with so many options available. These were some tips I picked up from my experience and I hope they are helpful to you! One last thing, don’t waste too much time doing price comparisons with duty free when you’re physically there. You’ll not only waste time and energy, but you might end up facing another “out of stock” sticker and your end of the trip cost savings was probably 0.
*There are some instances where duty free prices are higher than the shops. Example: Clio Kill Cover's limited edition gold cushion was on promo for something like 25,000 won and duty free was selling it for around 40,000 won. This is why I say if you see something you like then just pick it up because the +/-'s will balance it out in the end.