Imports of luxury items such as premium brand clothes, handbags and cosmetics hit a record high $8.6 billion (9.3 trillion won) last year despite the reeling economy.
Imports of the five main nonessentials -- luxury brand clothes, watches, golf clubs, handbags and cosmetics -- gained 2.93 percent compared to 2011, the Korea Customs Office said on Sunday.
“The growth rate (of imports of the five nonessential goods) fell far short of the 34.25 percent increase in 2011, but considering that the Korean GDP grew only 2 percent last year, consumers’ preference for foreign labels did not ebb,” KCS official said.
Over $6 billion or 70 percent of last year’s imports of high-end goods was clothing.
Handbags rose by $50 million to $952 million, while cosmetics gained $20 million to $883 million.
Imports of golf clubs, on the other hand, dropped by $25 million to $245 million.
Presuming the demand for luxury items will not dip this year, the KCS said it will intensify customs duties inquiries on multinational companies that are suspected of evading tariffs as they import expensive consumer goods.
The KCS plans to look into the appropriateness of their reported tariffs, foreign currency trading, whether they received excessive tax returns or unfair tax cuts, or violated import-export rules.
Meanwhile, local department stores are set to introduce more premium watch brands as sales jumped last year thanks to growing demand from professional men and Chinese tourists.
Sales of imported luxury watches such as Rolex, IWC and Breguet surged 20.6 percent at Lotte, 26.3 percent at Hyundai, 18 percent at Shinsegae and 38 percent at Galleria last year.
These watches are priced from millions of won to tens of millions of won per piece.
“Consumers with great interest and knowledge in foreign premium watch brands increased,” said a clerk at a luxury watch shop.
“People used to purchase watches for wedding gifts at around 5 million won on average until a few years back, but now it has gone up to between 10 million and 15 million won.”
In addition to professional men’s greater appetite for luxury, Chinese tourists have emerged as the main customer of high-end watches.
Chinese purchases of high-end watches climbed 15 percent at Lotte Department Store last year. At Galleria, Chinese accounted for 10 percent, up from 4 percent in 2011, of jewelry and expensive watch sales.
“Because the Chinese can buy premium watches about 30 percent cheaper than in China by getting tax refunds, many look for new arrivals and the most expensive products which they can’t find in duty-free shops,” said another industry official.
Lotte Avenuel’s 1,650-square-meter watch arcade on the second floor, the country’s largest which opened last year, is scheduled for a renewal. Six new brands including Vacheron Constantin, Blancpain and Omega will be added.
The COEX branch of Hyundai Department Store also plans to expand the space for high-end watch shops by about four times to 858 square meters. Ten new brands including Audemars Piguet, Breitling, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Piaget and Blancpain will be added to its current lineup of six.
The main Hyundai Department Store in Apgujeong will open independent boutiques for Jaeger-LeCoultre, IWC and Panerai next month.
Shinsegae Department Store is set to open Burberry Britain, Rado and Longines shops in its Gyeonggi branch late this month.
Galleria already increased the number of high-end watch brands to 21 last year. It plans to have an exclusive concierge for jewelry and watches to offer one-on-one consultation service for customers within the first half of this year.
By Kim So-hyun (email@example.com)
<관련 한글 기사>
불황에도 명품 불티, 작년 최대치 수입
작년 극심한 경기침체에도 불구하고 의류, 핸드백, 화장품 등 사치품 수입이 사상 최대치를 기록했다.
17일 관세청이 집계한 ‘2012년 사치품 수입동향’을 보면 작년 의류, 손목시계, 골프채, 핸드백, 화장품 등 5대 사치품의 연간 수입액은 86억1천만 달러로 2011년(83억6천500만 달러)보다 2.93% 늘었다.
수치에 따르면 작년 사치품 수입증가율이 전년도 34.25%에 크게 미치지 못한 것으로 나타났다.
관세청 관계자는 “국내총생산(GDP) 증가율이 2%에 그칠 정도로 국내외 경제사정이 좋지 않았던 점을 감안하면 소비자의 외국 브랜드 선호는 줄지 않았다고 볼 수 있다”라고 말했다.
품목별로 보면 의류가 60억3천200만 달러어치 들어와 사치품 수입비중의 70%를 차지했다.
핸드백은 9억5천200만 달러, 화장품은 8억8천300만 달러로 전년대비 5천만 달러, 2 천만 달러 각각 증가했다.
관세청은 올해도 이들 사치품에 대한 국내 수요가 줄지 않을 것으로 보고 명품 의류, 핸드백 등 고가 사치성 소비재 수입 과정에서 관세탈루 의혹이 있는 다국적 기업에 대한 관세조사(법인심사)를 대폭 강화한다. (코리아헤럴드)