Korean Trends to watch in 2018: UNTACT MARKETING 언택트

trend korea 2018In the previous post on trends in Korea we met the ‘aloners‘ who are breaking away from traditionally group-oriented activities and now enjoy doing things by themselves. Restaurants, shops, cinemas, and hotels are all starting to accommodate and market their products for the aloner.

Aloners are part of the YOLO lifestyle (You Only Live Once) which became a thing in Korea in 2017. YOLO emphasises quality of life, and so job satisfaction, hobbies, and individuality are more important than money and status and following the crowds.

Part of this trend means that when it comes to shopping for example, it’s not just about shopping. It’s about shopping in comfort. And since many people are now more comfortable spending time on their phones and less comfortable in the company of humans, it means that having to  interact with strangers (like shop assistants) is awkward and something to be avoided. And so, according to Trends Korea 2018 (Korean), ‘untact marketing‘ is going to increase this year.


qr codeBasically untact marketing is about selling products in ways that avoid face-to-face contact between the seller and buyer. So rather than having ‘CONTACT’ and interaction with staff, consumers can have ‘untact’ (UN+TACT ie. no contact) and do their shopping all by themselves!

I empathise with the customer who just wants to be left alone. For years in Korea I felt harassed and stressed when shop assistants followed me around so closely that I could feel their breath (well, almost) on the back of my neck. They were so near me that if I stopped suddenly to look at something, the assistant was likely to bump right into me. That still happens sometimes but nowhere near as much as it did before.

But it seems that young people don’t like this style of selling. And so finally shops are having to take notice. Thank you young people.


untact marketing

stills from Arirang video

But how can we avoid face-to-face contact in shops, you ask? Well, various smart technology is being developed to help us avoid dealing with (heaven forbid) human strangers and allowing us to interact with (sigh of relief) computers instead!

Take the Olive Young flagship cosmetics store in Gangnam. Here, if a customer simply puts a product on the smart table, information about the product will magically appear on the table’s screen. So the customer doesn’t have to ask a sales assistant anything. Lipsticks can be tried on virtually on the smart mirrors which can also tell the age of a customer’s skin and suggest appropriate creams! If you’re interested in seeing this, take a look at this Arirang video which introduces untact marketing.

qr codeTesco opened Virtual QR code stores in subway stations in Seoul years ago which I wrote about here. Customers could browse virtual shelves and scan codes with their phones and buy products online and have them delivered to the door.

Now actual shops can have codes on their products which customers scan with their phone to be taken to sites which give more information about the items. This way they avoid having to ask members of staff.

The advantage of this system was made clear to me last week when I went with Mr Kim to buy  some winter trousers. The shop assistant came over and was very helpful. So far so good. She explained that the trousers were very warm because they were wool. She also said that they would have to be dry cleaned since, you know, they were wool.

But later at home when we looked at the label we discovered that they were polyester and machine washable. I think she just assumed they were wool since they were warm. If that shop had had a QR code on the trousers we could have quickly found out that information. (or we could have inspected the label in the shop…)

A high tech approach is not always needed in untact marketing though. The cosmetics store Innisfree has started offering two kinds of baskets to customers. One type has a label signalling that the customer would like assistance. The other basket signals that the customer would like to browse around the store on her own. Great idea.

Of course, replacing people with technology has been going on for years. A new subway line, Ui-Sinseol LRT, with unmanned trains opened last year in the north of Seoul. And the stations appear to be unmanned too. This is all very well until there’s a problem and you need someone to talk to. Like when I left my bag on the train and then couldn’t find anyone to tell in the subway station.



self service

sticker for sale: ‘the customer is king but water is self-service’ 

In the previous post I wrote about some newly coined Korean words that express doing things alone. Here’s another word related to doing things alone and I’m hearing it more and more often – SELF

The English word ‘self’ (pronounced ‘sel-pu’) isn’t new. It’s been around for a while in Korean and means ‘self-service’ – customers have to do something for themselves without help from staff. But the meaning has expanded as now there are more things that are ‘self‘.

Some restaurants have signs on the walls explaining that water is ‘self’ or the side dishes are ‘self’ in which case there’ll be a salad bar style counter with bowls where you have to help yourself. Whilst the rest of the message is in Korean, the word ‘self’ is often written in English as though this is a foreign concept.

A local king crab restaurant we used to go to had the English sign ‘SELF CRAB’ on the wall. Luckily we didn’t have to go and catch the crab ourselves. But everything else was self-service. On a table at the back of the restaurant there was a rice cooker full of cooked rice and a pot of kimchi which we could help ourselves to. Alcohol and anything else customers wanted to eat were ‘bring it yourself’. I loved that self crab place.

Obviously the reason for the self-service approach at the self crab restaurant was an economical one – to keep personnel costs down. It was not about creating a comfortable untact experience for the customers!

But the word  ‘self’ can have a positive meaning as there are customers who prefer this approach. Some prefer ordering from a computer screen in a restaurant rather than ordering from a real life waitress. Some customers prefer getting their own water and side dishes without bothering anyone else. I’m ok with it too. 


Korean self wedding

photo: May Boutique

I know we may be straying away from the topic of untact marketing now, but we CANNOT talk about the word SELF without talking about the SELF WEDDING 셀프 웨딩 which is quite a new expression.

At first I thought it was a do-it-yourself wedding where the couple plans everything themselves rather than going for a complete hotel or wedding hall package. But it doesn’t mean that.

It’s a trend that’s taking the aloner trend to the extreme. Because a self wedding only involves the ‘BRIDE’.

Yes, you read that right.

So it’s not actually a wedding – it’s a wedding photo shoot. Some single ladies – who don’t know when or even if they’ll get married – still want to have their photo taken in a white wedding dress. And they want to do this while they are STILL YOUNG – this seems to be a key point here. And since people are getting married later in life or not getting married at all, these ladies are taking matters into their own hands and getting the pictures taken while they are still single! There are lots of wedding websites offering ‘self wedding dresses’.

So it seems there’s nothing we can’t do by ourselves now.

And Untact Marketing is part of this trend. There are lots of benefits to untact marketing and I’m all for avoiding awkward interactions with strangers. Just as long as everything doesn’t get too techy. (Or lonely!) It’s all very well for the Tech Savvy amongst us, but what about Team Technically Challenged?😩

One thought on “Korean Trends to watch in 2018: UNTACT MARKETING 언택트

  • February 4, 2018 at 6:05 am

    Seems a way to more fully serve SELF. This attitude may well end the South Koreans. Sad.

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