With one of the highest rates of internet penetration and smartphone adoption in the world, helped by superfast network speeds, South Korea is an attractive market for ecommerce companies. While the market remains fiercely competitive, Coupang has managed to secure a dominant position with fast delivery options, powered by its own, fully integrated logistics business.
The company started as a Groupon-style daily deals business and within 10 years has risen to become the number one South Korean ecommerce player. As of 2020, Coupang boasted a user-base almost half the size of South Korea’s population. It promises one-day delivery on almost its entire product selection and offers to deliver a big chunk of its orders in just a few hours.
Coupang has faced its fair share of challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including a wave of disruptions to its supply chain, prices and logistics capacity and an outbreak of coronavirus cases at a warehouse near Seoul. Despite that, it managed to almost double its revenues in 2020. Adding nearly 25,000 jobs in 2020 alone made Coupang the third-largest employer in South Korea.
In March 2021, it went public in rather spectacular fashion and now ranks as the country’s second-largest publicly held company, behind Samsung Electronics. Its debut on the New York Stock Exchange made it one of only a handful of South Korean companies trading on US exchanges. Coupang is potentially setting a new benchmark for global ecommerce companies across Asia and the US and there are a number of key lessons that new startups can learn from what it has achieved.