If you’re moving to Korea soon and hope to swing by Ikea for some good inexpensive things for your home you might be waiting a while. When I officially moved here in 2012 and had to furnish an entire apartment, I was nervous that without an Ikea, it would be expensive and a long process. Ikea is slowly making it’s way to Korea, after having already been in Japan for years, and it’s first store is set to open by the end of 2014. I suspect though, that even once it opens it’s doors the crowds will be so outrageous that you may still be searching for alternative.
Although there are still things from Ikea that I crave and find hard to find substitutes for such as Ribba frames and those storage boxes of all shapes size and colors, there are plenty of alternatives for shopping in Korea for anything household related; even if you don’t read or speak Hangul (Korean). Here are some of my favorites:
GMarket: I like to say this “GMarket” as if it’s the name of a hip-hop artist, it just makes it more fun. Think Korean-Amazon (because no, Amazon is not available in Korea unlike Japan). They have a “global” site which reads in English, and although it can still be a bit tough to navigate because a lot of the item descriptions are still in Hangul, it’s a treasure trove of anything you can think of, and all reasonably priced too. You can buy anything from groceries, furniture, clothing, electronics, etc on this site. I furnished my entire apartment for under $1500 here. Some stuff will even be delivered to your door on the dame day! Word to the wise those, check those measurements, as Korean furniture tends to be ultra small. Although I’m totally used to it now, when my couch arrived from GMarket I swore it was child-sized.
Modern House: This place has a bunch of brick & mortar stores all over Korea, and they are adorable. The physical store isn’t that large, mainly being located in malls, but they pack a lot into a smaller store. The best way I can think to describe this is a smaller mix of Crate & Barrell and Ikea. The prices are some of the most reasonable I’ve found in Korea and it’s actually quality stuff, unlike most things in Korea that are cheap for a reason. The website is all in Hangul, however if you use Chrome, the translate function works well enough for you to navigate, however I had to had a Korean friend help me when it came time to setup an account and checkout.
EMart: This is like the Super-Target/Wal-Mart of Korea. Beware going here on weekends, as it could easily take you an hour to get a parking spot, then hours to ram your way through the crowds of people, and another hour to get out of the parking garage. Weeknights work best for me, or I’m sure weekday mornings would be good if you aren’t working. You can find anything you need for a house here, and then go shop for groceries too. They even have a descent selection of clothing if you’re not looking for anything with a designer label. Some things are overpriced, probably because of the convenience factor of the big store, but most items are competitively priced. They have a website where you can buy anything and have it all delivered even the same day (hello grocery delivery); but the site doesn’t translate to English well so I just go to the store.