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Asia

Olympics Help Propel 4.0% Boost in South Korea Licensed Retail Sales

Contact the editor at karina@plainlanguagemedia.com

Retail sales of licensed merchandise in South Korea jumped 4.0% to reach $443 million in 2018, according to The Licensing Letter.

In part, this was thanks to the impact of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, which boosted sales from tourists and natives alike. In August, we estimated that total worldwide retail sales resulting from the Games would ultimately fall anywhere between $90–225 million in 2018. An estimated 1,500 products were produced spanning apparel, confectionery, stationery, plush, pin badges, and accessories.

With just $443 million in licensed retail sales, South Korea is one of the smallest territories for licensed retail sales within Asia, accounting for just 4% of Japan’s total sales and 5% of China’s total sales.

This last year saw the highest rate of growth in South Korea since TLL first began tracking its licensed retail sales; in 2012, the territory was estimated to have jumped 5.1% to reach $389 million. Since then, the country has tracked between 2–3% growth every year, except for 2016, when sales fell by -1.9% before picking pack up to 3.0% in 2017.


The country has a well-developed entertainment/character sector, offering a mix of foreign properties as well as a homegrown licensing business that has featured several success stories, including one of the most notable breakout properties this year, Baby Shark.

In fact, entertainment/character licensing drives a dominant 39.4% of retail sales of licensed goods, with fashion labels accounting for the second-largest proportion (27.1%). Other major property types include corporate trademarks/brands (10.7%), sports (10.2%), and art (3.8%).

All are on the rise, with fashion especially strong. It showed an increase of 4.4% in 2018, compared to 4.0% growth for the market as a whole.

Sports-based sales jumped 27.0%, largely off of the strength of the Games, to reach $45 million in 2018—a leap of almost $10 million in licensed retail sales.

Corporate trademarks/brands grew 3.2%. Art jumped 2.4%, recovering after some years of declines. The largest category, entertainment/character, also grew the slowest with 1.8% growth to reach $175 million in 2018.


Apparel/accessories/footwear represents a particularly dominant category in South Korea, generating 55.2% of licensed retail sales. Fashion- and sports-driven apparel are a large and growing portion of the total, but accessories dominate the total.

Toys and interactive games comprise the second-largest sector, with a 13.0% share of market. The segment accounts for a relatively larger amount of sales compared to more mature markets, like Japan.

The third-largest sector, publishing products, accounts for 12.7% of sales in South Korea. The country has a strong comic book market, and entertainment and comic book publishing go hand-in-hand, tied to licensed properties both from Korea and Japan. Children’s books represent an entry point for many foreign licensors of entertainment/character properties as well.

Food/beverage is a relatively strong category, compared to the rest of the region, with 4.7% share; however, in 2018, sales sputtered with just 0.5% growth. Over the last couple of years, there has been a concentrated effort to export specialty food/beverage brands to markets like the U.S., Latin America, and Europe.

Gifts/novelties jumped 19.0% to reach 4.7% share of licensed sales, thanks in large part to souvenirs connected with the Games as well as a correction from previous years, where the country saw falling sales.

Health & beauty aids accounted for 4.1% of sales, up from 2.7% share in 2011. Most of the activity in this sector is driven by entertainment/character- and fashion-based brands.

At 1.9% share, home furniture/housewares/domestics is one of the most dynamic categories. In 2018, the category jumped 6.0% after dropping -7.4% from 2015–2017 and -13.0% from 2013–2015. At just $8 million in value in 2018, however, that translates to under a $1 million shift.


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