Enjoy a 15% discount when you use the code EQLYJUNE24 at checkout from the 17th to the 30th of June 2024

Luxury and Fashion Our global industry experts explore the key trends shaping consumer preferences that drive fashion and luxury, using timely insights to stay one step ahead of the latest innovations and business strategies.

Coupang’s Luxury Leap: Farfetch Acquisition Fuels Retail Dominance

Lisa Hong Profile Picture
Lisa Hong Bio

Coupang, a major player in South Korea’s e-commerce landscape, has shown exceptional growth in the country and aims to fulfil its aspiration for global penetration. The recent acquisition of the European fashion and luxury e-commerce platform Farfetch is a key strategic move by the Korean e-commerce giant to expand its reach beyond its domestic market, and transform from a retailer primarily focused on household essentials to a more comprehensive platform that offers luxury items.

Coupang defeats South Korea e-commerce, gearing up for the global stage

Coupang sets its major operations within South Korea, where several dominant players capture the majority of the e-commerce landscape. Coupang has demonstrated outstanding market share growth, surging from 5.8% in 2017 to 22.5% in 2022. Coupang’s “Rocket Deliver” service, offering next-day delivery (or same-day if ordered early), has become an everyday norm for South Koreans, facilitating convenient purchases of essential items such as groceries and a wide variety of consumer goods from a pair of socks to major home appliances such as fridges.Chart showing Retail E-Commerce Company Shares in South Korea

Coupang previously made an attempt to explore overseas markets but without significant success. Following its initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange back in 2021, the company chose Japan as its first attempt to expand overseas. Despite its unsuccessful venture in Japanese retail, leading to a business withdrawal in 2023, Coupang is still committed to extending its reach to other countries, including Taiwan and Singapore, through strategic investment and acquisitions. To craft its capabilities for global expansion, Coupang is strengthening its logistics network in various regions.

The recent acquisition of Farfetch could potentially serve as a solid starting point for cultivating a new expansion strategy

Source: Euromonitor International

Unlocking growth potential in South Korean luxury e-commerce

Despite high e-commerce penetration in South Korea, consumers purchasing luxury items are skewed to offline stores such as department stores.

In 2023, South Korea’s Personal Luxury sold through e-commerce (12%) lagged behind the global market (19%), indicating the potential growth in the online luxury market over the forecast period

Source: Euromonitor International

Coupang introduced a “Rocket Luxury” service in 2023, where consumers can receive super premium beauty products within 24 hours, but it is facing challenges in competing with Kakao Gift, where small luxury items, including beauty and personal care and home care products, are popularly sold through the country’s leading messenger application, Kakao Talk. Despite this, the fact that there is currently no dominant platform that covers all luxury categories makes Coupang an excellent candidate as a future luxury e-commerce leader, as it aims to expand its range of luxury categories, including apparel and footwear, leather goods, and personal accessories, through the Fartetch acquisition.Chart showing personal luxury sold through e-commerce

South Korean consumers prefer department stores for the channel’s exclusive services, customer promotion and verified authentication. However, growing credibility and the convenience of e-commerce platforms can diminish the barrier in luxury e-commerce. Furthermore, restrictions on the total number of stores for luxury brands, aimed at preserving image and maintaining exclusivity, lead many brands to resist expanding their outlets. This limitation results in a concentrated presence, primarily in major cities, compelling consumers from other areas to travel for luxury purchases. Coupang’s luxury business model expects to address this gap, attracting consumers from rural areas and helping luxury retail to transform from offline-centric to having more of an online presence.

Coupang’s anticipated global opportunities and challenges ahead

Coupang will navigate in the future to seek its way into new markets outside of South Korea. To distinguish itself from retail giants such as Amazon, Alibaba and JD.com, Coupang aims to transform into a retailer catering for a broader range of products beyond household essentials and groceries, to luxury items.

The acquisition of Farfetch, along with the existing “Rocket Luxury” service, establishes a unified presence in the luxury field

Source: Euromonitor International

However, it will be crucial for Coupang to consider how to handle return issues. Coupang's unconditional returns policy may be exploited by consumers for luxury goods. If this happens, Coupang could face significant profit losses, and the image of luxury brands could be affected. Another challenge for Coupang will be how to integrate Farfetch’s high-end offering with its existing platform, which is fairly casual and focused on everyday items. Improving the platform to cater for consumers who seek premium experience and luxury goods will be essential.

Coupang’s PR image emphasising purchase of household essentialsImage from Coupang's marketing

Source: Coupang

Farfetch’s list of available brands and mobile application interface

Farfetch brand logos

Source: Farfetch

Coupang has several offices located in China, including Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen, implicating its ambition to penetrate this market. Farfetch has had partnerships with JD.com and Alibaba in the past to target Chinese consumers and this experience is expected to aid Coupang’s future entry into the Chinese market. In regions with high luxury e-commerce penetration, such as North America and Western Europe, Coupang can leverage Farfetch’s local knowledge and boost up with Coupang’s expertise in fast delivery, and the latter can benefit from Coupang’s expertise in fast delivery.

Farfetch is a platform that is highly trusted by young consumers, and this offers an optimistic outlook with regards to future generations. Farfetch's strength lies in its extensive list of brands, a challenge even for department stores to secure and negotiate. With this new leverage on hand, Coupang will have a stronger chance of paving the way as a new influencer and disruptor in the global e-commerce landscape.

Read our article 10 Fastest Growing Retailers in Asia Pacific, 2023 Edition for further analysis on Asia Pacific e-commerce. And to learn more about Luxury Goods, please read World Market for Luxury Goods and Shifting Channels in Luxury and Fashion.

Interested in more insights? Subscribe to our content

Shop Our Reports

Retail Reinvention: A Framework for Future Growth

New business models, channels and shopper expectations continue to change retail, redefining industry rules and relationships and disrupting the path to…

View Report

Competitor Strategies in Personal Accessories

The pandemic catalyses industry consolidation, increasing the top 10 players' share. Luxury brands thrive initially, but a sector slowdown opens doors for…

View Report

World Market for Apparel and Footwear

Apparel and footwear was among the industries worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and as the ongoing conflict in Ukraine further disrupts the world’s economy,…

View Report
Related Content Shifting Channels in Luxury and Fashion Learn More