“It’s not just free — it’s a stress-free experience,” Mr. Kim said in an interview on Thursday. “We’ve really tried to go to those extremes that have a really high bar to not make something incrementally different, but think about how we can just change the actual frame of it — the framework.”
The company’s name is a mix of the English word “coupon” and “pang,” the Korean sound for hitting the jackpot. In an industry where most delivery workers drive around in nondescript trucks wearing drab jackets, Coupang’s fleet of full-time drivers — known as Coupang Men, but recently renamed Coupang Friends — wear bright uniforms and cruise around in branded, company-issued vehicles.
“Coupang has grown fast by meeting two most important needs of customers: cheap prices and fast delivery,” said Ju Yoon-hwang, a professor of distribution management at Jangan University. “Coupang also offers more goods than competitors, so consumers believe they can find anything on Coupang.”
Only a few start-ups — like Naver, South Korea’s dominant web portal and search engine, and Kakao, its leading messaging app and online bank — have been as successful as Coupang. But Naver and Kakao are both listed in South Korea. Mr. Kim took Coupang to Wall Street aiming to court bigger investors and a higher valuation that would allow his company to eclipse its rivals back home.
South Korea is one of the world’s fastest-growing e-commerce markets, projected to become the third largest in the world this year, behind only China and the United States. Its volume, valued at $128 billion last year, is expected to reach $206 billion by 2024, according to Euromonitor International, a market research company.
And it is ideal for e-commerce. About 52 million people live in the country, a vast majority of them in densely populated cities. Nearly every home has high-speed internet, and people pay taxes and gas bills with smartphones.