Korea is home to a plethora of chain stores specialising in different items. For newcomers to Korea, knowing where to buy what items can be somewhat confusing, so here is a breakdown of the biggest Korean chain stores.
For groceries: EMart, Homeplus, No Brand
These are the biggest and most general stores on this list – massive supermarkets where you can buy almost anything from basic groceries to TVs. The cheapest and smallest of these is No Brand, famous for their plain packaging. No Brand is actually a subsidiary of EMart, which is another good option for large supermarkets. Homeplus and EMart are quite similar, and you can always find what you need. Just be aware that Homeplus and EMart close every second Sunday, so you might go all the way there just to find they are closed!
For cosmetics & toiletries: Olive Young, Innisfree
If you are looking for shampoo, makeup, soap, body wash, deodorant and most other cosmetic items Olive Young and Innisfree are the two biggest stores. You can find almost anything you need at one of these two shops. Olive Young is more general and has a wider range, while Innisfree usually stocks more specific cosmetic items.
For books: Aladdin, Gyobo Books, Youngpung Books
For books, you have two options – buy new from a store like Gyobo Books or Youngpung Books or buy used books from Aladdin. Both have very large selections for books, and also stock other items like stationary, notepads and colour-by-number paintings. At Aladdin, you can also resell your old books. If you take them to the cashier, they will evaluate the condition of the book, and unless it’s a book that they can’t sell or have too many copies of, they will pay you some money for your used books.
For homeware, stationary: Daiso
Daiso is somewhat notorious in Korea – people go there looking one or two items and end up spending an hour, buying all sorts of things that they didn’t even need because items here are so cheap! Daiso sells bathroom supplies, kitchen supplies, toilet paper, cleaning products, stationary, and plenty of other useful everyday items.
For electronics: Himart
For phones, computers, and basically any electronic appliance, Himart is the biggest retailer chain in Korea. They sell the big and expensive items such as kitchen appliances and gaming consoles as well as smaller peripheral appliances. While this may not be a store that you visit regularly, you will probably need to go to an electronics store at some point during your time in Korea.
Convenience stores: GS25, CU, 7/11, EMart 24
You can’t go one block without seeing one of these stores – if you need a quick snack, a carton of milk, a drink or even a quick meal, you can get all the basics at GS25, CU, or E-Mart24, among others. They can also top up your travel card for you, deliver packages, and process your utilities bill. Sometimes you may even find more than one convenience store on the same street, so you have many options to choose from!
For special items/imported goods: It is usually best to look online unless you know an independent store near you. You will generally have trouble finding foreign food and specialty items in stores, so it is better to order them from Coupang or GMarket, or from a foreign website like iHerb. In some areas like Itaewon, there are international marts that may have what you are looking for.
By Ewan Smith