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Kurly: Pioneering dawn delivery service market in South Korea

Kurly built its rapid growth on a unique proposition of delivering fresh groceries by dawn for orders placed before 11 pm. Its customers can order a variety of high-end produce, including rare beef, hand-made bread, animal welfare milk, kimchi, tofu, or pick one of more than a dozen varieties of local, hard-to-find apples. “Kurly Only” products, goods available to purchase only at Market Kurly, account for 30% of all products sold. It also imports and distributes overseas products, such as cheese.

Consumer convenience has proven key to the company’s success, and it quickly became popular amongst the growing working-class members of South Korean households, who have the money to buy but no time to go to the market.

Similar to other rapid delivery services around the world, Kurly has seen a massive surge of use, fueled by people turning to e-commerce in the wake of social distancing and rapid digitalization caused by COVID-19. Its customer base quickly expanded when demand for online groceries skyrocketed during the pandemic.

A pioneer in South Korea’s dawn delivery service market, Kurly quickly grew to become one of the country’s most important startup unicorns, reaching $3.3bn in post money valuation. The company has attracted major investors’ attention, including DST Global, Sequoia Capital China, Aspex Management and Hillhouse Capital.

The main threat to Kurly’s business is spending more for deliveries than other e-commerce platforms. Despite seeing a fast growth of its revenues and employee count over recent years, the company also logged a huge operating loss. Its operating expenses doubled in 2021, mainly due to higher variable costs such as delivery, packaging, and cold chain logistics. It has also faced criticism for the strain its business model puts on delivery drivers, based on complaints of overwork and poor conditions.