Did those ballet slippers you ordered online turn out to be too small? No problem. Just make a few clicks on your app, place the shoes outside your door — no box, no invoice, no label to print. The slippers will be picked up within hours and you will immediately get a refund.
This scenario is not a glimpse at the future of online retailing but reality now in South Korea, where Coupang has become the largest online retailer in the country. Analysts estimated Coupang's sales reached $3 billion in 2017. The 8-year-old start-up company is one of a handful of Korean unicorns (companies valued at $1 billion or more) and is viewed in Korea as a strong candidate for an IPO in 2019 or 2020, although the company won't discuss plans to go public.
With a valuation of more than $5 billion and $1.4 billion in venture capital investment, Coupang is the fastest-growing and best financed e-commerce site of all time in South Korea. It dominates a highly competitive e-commerce market, where no one is making a profit. The company says half of South Korea's 51 million people have downloaded its mobile app. That may be why Amazon, already struggling to crack markets in Asia, has yet to set foot in the South Korean market.
"Amazon's strength as an e-commerce company comes from fast delivery, but most Korean e-commerce players do one-day or same-day shipping service for a cheap price," said Sehwan Choi, founder of TechforKorea, a site that tracks Korean technology. Amazon did not respond to CNBC's request for comment.