The start of shopping malls in Korea is hard to pinpoint. Up until the late 1990s, the concept of a "mall" was not established.
People who were looking to buy new items would head to big traditional market areas like Dongdaemun or Namdaemun, or to the clusters of underground shops located at subway stations with large waves of foot traffic.
The most famous underground shopping centres were located at Seoul's Express Bus Terminal and Gangnam Station, both in southern Seoul. Although these underground shopping centres made it possible to shop at multiple stores at once, they were not convenient because of how the stores were arranged and were disorganized.
In 1998, a significant change came with the opening of Migliore, a giant building in the Dongdaemun area, filled with small shops selling apparel and fashion accessories. The format combined the convenience and organisation of a department store, with a wide selection of products and the low prices of underground shopping centres. The opening of Migliore was followed up by Doota in 1999, and the two became landmarks for the Dongdaemun shopping district.
The 2000s saw the beginning of what has become known as "malling" ― spending time at shopping malls, but not necessarily to shop. The game changer was Coex Mall, located beneath the World Trade Center in Samseong-dong.
"When Coex Mall opened in 2000, the concept of a shopping mall was still new to Korea. With a theatre, aquarium, and food court all in one place, it quickly became 'hot' among young consumers. That was the beginning of the shopping mall trend," said a source at Coex Mall.
Gigantic malls such as I'Park Mall in Yongsan-gu, Times Square in Yeongdeungpo-gu, D-Cube City in Guro-gu and the IFC Mall in Yeouido have also sprung up, linked to movie theatres, supermarkets, art centres and upscale hotels. The latest to join the fray is Lotte World Mall, Korea's largest shopping mall in Songpa-gu, Seoul, which opened in 2014.
The increase in "malling" has led shopping centres to rebrand themselves. The underground shopping centre at Express Bus Terminal has been remodeled and rebranded itself as "Goto Mall," while shopping centres in the Dongdaemun Market area have been designated Dongdaemun Fashion Town to underscore a more comprehensive visiting experience.
Increasingly, shopping is being superseded by experience in Korea's malls.
"It's a successful marketing tactic for both the brands and the mall owners," said Huh Kyung-ok, a professor of consumer science at Sungshin Women's University. "People appreciate that they can have all those experiences in one place. I expect this trend to continue."