In almost every street corner, shopping district, residential areas, or mall one can easily find convenience store chains that are open for 24 hours. They're quite easy to find, with the vibrant glow of their neon signs lighting up their surroundings no matter the time of the day or the current weather. Aside from the wide variety of ready-to-eat food in the stores, these companies have made it more convenient for its customers by providing unique services such as partnering with the logistics companies and payment centers.
Contrary to convenience stores in other countries, in South Korea, they serve more than just the usual instant meals, noodles, and junk foods. Based on 2018 data, CU has 13,169 stores, GS25 with 13,107 stores, 7-Eleven with 9,555 stores, E-Mart24 with 3,700 stores, and Mini Stop with 2,533 stores. With this collective number of stores, they have easily reached residents in the country.
In South Korea, convenience stores aren't just the grab-and-go store, they offer full fresh meals delivered almost daily. The majority of the stores have sufficient indoor and outdoor tables and chairs for their customers, which makes the stores an affordable option than going to restaurants and bars.
To scratch the surface of food options, if you're looking for a cheap and convenient meal, yet still authentic Korean meal, you would want to try one of these dosirak boxes found in these convenience stores. An example of a meal set choices are grilled pork belly, stir-fried spicy pork, and the kimchi rice with side dishes such as rice cakes, fresh vegetables, eggs, and even fishcakes.
Hearty snacks are also available such as sausages or fish balls that are vacuum-sealed and can be reheated in a microwave at the store, home, or in the office. There are also stores offering these sausages already pre-heated, and either on a bun or a stick. You can get creative with choices to pair with ramen or rice.
While food is the primary product, many non-food services make these places convenient.
If you're new in South Korea or have lost your T-Money Card, drop by any convenience store where you can purchase a new card for as low as 2,500 KRW, some cards are priced higher for its designs. One can also top-up or reload their card at any GS25, CU, 7-Eleven, Mini Stop, Story Way, E-Mart24, and 365PLUS in 1,000 KRW denominations, maximum of 90,000 KRW.
Phone charging stations are becoming more common and available in public places. Convenience stores in South Korea also offer these services, where they have a charging station with a variety of cords that is compatible with all gadgets. At the same time, these stores are also adapting to the rapid pace of technology that some already offer wireless charging pads, 220v outlets, and USB ports that are placed on tables making it easier for one to keep an eye on their gadgets.
There has been a continuous increase in electric vehicles in South Korea. In 2019, 7-Eleven has signed a memorandum with Korea Electric Vehicle Charging Service and announced a partnership with Electric Vehicle Charging Stations that would be available in their stores. It is a way to adapt to the consumer's behavior with the increase in environmental awareness and drive to lower one's carbon footprint. It is expected that within the following years, electric vehicles can recharge their vehicles in select 7-Eleven stores.
Korean Cosmetics are popular worldwide, and it is also something that has become available in their convenience stores. The products available range from genetic and branded makeup and skincare products such as sunblock, lipstick and lip tint, eyeliners, blush on, and even false eyelashes.
Shipping internationally and locally has made it easier with the partnership of GS25 and Postbox, and CU with CJ. One can visit their stores with the package and go directly to their machine where the sender can input the sender and the receiver's details, weigh the package, stick the printed sticker on the package, pay at the counter, and drop off the package in their bin – and this can be done at any time of the day.
Other than paying for items, you can also pay the utility bills and taxes in the convenience stores using what is called the U-billing service. You can pay for your social, national pension, and healthcare insurance. This service has grown increasingly popular over the past years due to the ease and speed of transaction, not having to wait on long queues, or traveling to government buildings anymore.
If you're in need of a last-minute Valentine's day gift for your partner, drop by any convenience store, and most of the time they have a holiday-themed selection for gift and snacks ideas, as well as decorations. These themed setups are often present in major holidays such as Valentine's Day, Halloween, Lunar New Year, Chuseok, Christmas, and many more.
In 2018, GS25 announced that foreign currency payments will be accepted in select stores, and exchange rates will be provided by Shinhan Bank Exchange, currencies that they will accept are US Dollar, Japanese Yen, European Euro, and Chinese Yuan. At the same time, foreign exchange services will also be available over-the-counter.
With the increase in the number of convenience stores in South Korea within the past decade, banks have partnered with non-bank automatic teller machines (ATMs), that have strategically partnered with convenience stores in South Korea. GS Retail, operator of GS25, partnered with K Bank; KakaoBank has partnered with BGF Finlink and operates ATM machines in CU Stores; Lotte PS Net machines operate in 7-Eleven and Lotte Mart. These non-bank machines are free of charge and are accessible to store customers and bank clients 24/7.
Korean convenience stores have introduced mobile payment systems in 2011, but only in 2018 have they seen a drastic increase in patronizing with this option. According to The Korean Herald, CU accepts Samsung Electronics Co.'s Samsung Pay, KakaoPay, L.G. Pay, and six other payment tools.
Korean convenience stores have adapted to the country's lifestyle and behavior. Aside from food and beverage, the stores have continuously innovated to make them truly convenient.