Following recent expansions in China and Japan, Allbirds has announced its debut in South Korea. While in China, the brand is primarily leveraging its partnerships with TMall, with a focus on DTC in Japan and Korea. South Korea is estimated to generate $6.3B in footwear market volume in 2020, which is about a quarter of that of Japan. However, online channels account for more than 50% of total sales in the footwear industry in South Korea, which is more than triple that of Japan. For both China and Japan, Allbirds has replicated its success model in the Western world of capitalizing on its offline store experience. The brand operates four retail stores in China (Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu and Guangzhou) and one in Japan (Tokyo); however, the brand has yet to announce its plan for offline expansion in South Korea.
Allbirds’ South Korean site has become its 9th official DTC site.
Allbirds is leaning on digital channels to resonate with the local audience—the brand has recently launched a local DTC-enabled site and a local Instagram account. While brands and retailers are more likely to localize Facebook according to Gartner’s Localization 2019 intelligence report, Allbirds took a highly localized approach on Instagram in the region. Allbirds is referencing a well-established playbook on the platform in leveraging micro and small local influencers for the launch. Brands have begun to shift away from celebrities and mega influencers and instead prioritize smaller and advocate influencers in the hope of better engagement. According to Gartner’s Social Platforms & Influencers 2019 intelligence report, advocates generate double the engagement rate on Instagram compared with celebrities and mega influencers across sectors.
Allbirds’ partnered with Owon_Seoul, a small influencer based in Korea to promote their launch and product
South Korea offers a unique digital opportunity to global brands with high e-commerce penetration. However, it comes with its own challenges, such as high expectations in DTC and fulfillment capabilities, unique platforms in the region (vs. China and Japan) like KakaoTalk, and slowed economic growth and purchase intent due to the pandemic. As a relatively young brand, Allbirds must continue to seek ways to localize its approach and expansion to cascade its success from the Western world in an Easterly direction.