Coupang is the ‘Amazon of South Korea.’ But there is a key difference.

While Coupang dominates ecommerce in South Korea, it’s missing the cash-printing machine known as Amazon Web Services.


March 15, 2021

This Coupang fulfilment center is the part of the company that IS like Amazon (Source: Bloomberg / Getty Images)

In South Korea, there is no Amazon. There’s Coupang, which has captured the country’s market with:

  • Branding: Bright and colorful uniforms help it stand out
  • Speed: 99.6% of deliveries are fulfilled in less than 24 hours
  • Ubiquity: It has 200 warehouses across the country — and 70% of South Koreans live within 10 minutes of these locations (more than half the country has the Coupang app)

Last Thursday, Coupang went public and rocketed 40% to a valuation of $80B+. It’s the largest Asian company to IPO since Alibaba in 2014 and the largest IPO to date (sorry, Roblox).

Founded by Harvard dropout Bom Suk Kim in 2010…

… Coupang is in the business of “rocket delivery,” specializing in retail sales and last-mile logistics, much like Amazon.

It has created further innovations in the space, allowing delivery to custom door-side boxes and letting customers leave boxes on doorsteps for returns.

Rapid delivery is wicked expensive, though. Amazon uses profits from its cash machine AWS to support its expanding delivery infrastructure.

As noted by Protocol, Coupang doesn’t have an AWS-equivalent to offset its logistics costs — which ballooned to ~$10B last year.

Right now, Coupang is betting that online retail is enough

South Korea is projected to become the 3rd-largest ecommerce market in the world this year, behind only China and the US.

Coupang is already #1 in South Korea ecommerce, and with the fresh IPO cash, they’re hoping to pull far ahead of its “uptight” competitors.

Although it’s not all sunshine and same-day delivery. The human toll of hyper-speed ecommerce is starting to show. In the recent pandemic-fueled delivery craze, 14 delivery drivers have died of overwork in South Korea.

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