Dongdaemun Market in Seoul is brimming with Chinese live-streamers who document available cheap clothes and accessories on the hoof.
Market traders say that no fewer than 600 Chinese live-streamers operate in APM Place, DDP Mall and other large stores in the market frequented by Chinese shoppers. One store owner at APM Place said, "Out of every 10 Chinese customers, five to six live-stream."
Live-streaming became popular in China after the Taobao Live platform affiliated with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba was launched in 2016. Taobao Live is a combination of e-commerce and web broadcaster.
The live-streamers start their webcasts when the market opens at around 8 p.m. and end at 3 a.m., three to four hours earlier than Korean stall keepers. The timing is designed to coincide with the hours when Chinese people finish work and come home.
One Chinese exchange student identified only by his surname Wang was busy Monday night live-streaming with his older sister who models the accessories and clothes. "I earn about 5,000 yuan a night visiting five stores," Wang said.
Dongdaemun market was hit hard by a Chinese boycott in 2017, and revenues dropped 30 to 40 percent compared to the previous year, according to a spokesman for the market traders association.
But then the Chinese live-streamers started popping up, and now their numbers have swelled to the hundreds. The spokesman said they generated an estimated W150 billion to W160 billion in revenues last year (US$1=W1,120).
An owner of an accessory wholesale store said, "The entire market is benefiting from the publicity generated by the Chinese live-streaming merchants. It seems like sales have returned to between 60 to 70 percent of what they were in 2016."
But not everyone welcomes them. Some store owners complain that they are a nuisance, especially when dozens of them flock to a particular part of the market and get in the way of other customers.
Lee Sung-wook, who sells children's clothes, said, "They talk very loudly while broadcasting or sit down anywhere they please and get in the way. They crowd my small store and often generate only a small number of orders."
Another store owner said, "Some do their broadcast for more than 30 minutes but buy only six pieces of clothing in the end, so I only let them in when I have products left that I need to get rid of."
A Chinese man live-streams from Dongdaemun Market in Seoul last Wednesday.