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E-commerce

Korea's first-generation retail platform Interpark up for sale

A combined 28% stake in Interpark is on the market; valued at around 130 billion won ($113 million)

By Jul 12, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

(Courtesy of Interpark)
(Courtesy of Interpark)

South Korea-based Interpark Corp., one of the country’s first-generation online retail platforms, is up for sale. 

According to the investment banking industry on July 12, Interpark's largest shareholder Lee Ki-hyung and related parties have recently hired NH Investment & Securities to look for a potential buyer.

Lee, also the founder and chief executive of Interpark, and its affiliated shareholders plan to sell off their combined 28% stake with management rights. Interpark specializes in online ticketing services for flights and concerts as well as tour packages.

Currently, Interpark's market capitalization stands at around 456.3 billion won ($398 million), valuing the 28% stake at around 130 billion won. The company's share price has jumped almost 50% from the beginning of this year, driven by market anticipation over post-pandemic demand recovery for traveling and concerts.

Industry watchers have identified private equity firms and large business groups such as platform giants Naver Corp., Kakao Corp. and e-commerce businesses operators including telecommunications company SK Telecom's 11Street and retail giant Lotte Group as potential buyers. 

Korea's first-generation retail platform Interpark up for sale


POST-PANDEMIC NEW NORMAL FUELS SALE PROCESS

CEO Lee’s decision to sell off Interpark is likely owing to the fact that the company’s core business, flight and concert ticket sales, is likely to fetch the expected sale price following the post-pandemic demand recovery.

What makes Interpark attractive to potential buyers is its forte in the online ticketing market -- holding almost a 70% market share. It offers ticketing services for concerts, flights and travel activities, which platform companies such as Naver and Kakao would be able to utilize for their own travel services.

But there are also concerns that Interpark’s valuation may drop if the decision-making process is delayed. The travel and concert sectors are seeing a shift in purchasing behavior as consumers increasingly opt for customized platforms to buy individual travel products instead of tour packages, which is what Interpark mostly provides.

Even Interpark's unrivaled presence in concert ticket reservations is being threatened by newer rivals such as Kakao.

Companies that consider acquiring Interpark are likely to be concerned over the high sale price proposed by the sell-side and their request to exclude Interpark's profitable subsidiary, iMarket Korea, from the sale.

E-COMMERCE TRAILBLAZER TURNS INTO CULTURE PLATFORM

Interpark CEO Lee Ki-hyung
Interpark CEO Lee Ki-hyung
Interpark is one of the very first e-commerce companies in Korea. It was founded by CEO Lee when he launched the company as a part of IT firm Dacom's incubator program in 1995.

In 1997, Interpark spun off as an independent entity and three years later, it launched the e-commerce platform Gmarket, marking the beginning of the open market platform industry in Korea.

In 2003, Interpark began to offer free delivery services for book orders, which became a big hit and drove the company to become a market leader in the e-commerce industry. The company even earned the nickname, "Amazon of Korea".

But its momentum withered in 2004 following the arrival  of e-commerce rivals and retail giants that rolled out their own online shopping malls.

Amid the growing competition, Interpark had to choose between a game of chicken and seeking fresh opportunities. The company decided to go with the latter, and in 2008, Interpark sold off its core subsidiary Gmarket to eBay for around 440 billion won.

Interpark decided to take a step back from the fierce competition in the online retail scene and instead, position itself as a leading culture platform encompassing travel, concert and books.

Interpark also used the Gmarket sale proceeds to diversify its business. In 2011, the company acquired iMarket Korea, a maintenance, repair and operation (MRO) affiliate of Samsung Group, for 300 billion won to tap into the business-to-business (B2B) market.

Initially, it was viewed as a successful M&A deal since the company generated stable cash flow, but its profitability turned downward once it no longer had guaranteed supply from Samsung. Interpark's other ventures such as a coffee shop chain also failed to reap strong results.

“Interpark’s strategy to gain a competitive edge in a specialized segment instead of suffering heavy losses in the retail market wasn’t entirely wrong, but its withering momentum led to talented employees leaving the company for bigger rivals such as Kakao and Naver,” said a former Interpark official.

Write to Jun-ho Cha and Min-ki Koo at chacha@hankyung.com

Danbee Lee edited this article.

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