[Exclusive] Interview: 20 Questions with K-Pop Bazaar

"Affordable K-pop for Australians. For fans. By fans."

I recently got the opportunity to sit down and interview Aly from the website K-Pop Bazaar, and her two friends, Sarah and Julia, who help her with running the business.

Based out of the Australian city of Sydney, the online K-pop store K-Pop Bazaar aims to provide K-pop albums to Australians at an affordable price.

To start off with, as I do with everyone, I want to sincerely thank you for taking the time to go through this interview with us! Since being recommended your website, I've purchased several albums through you, noticing how it provides an affordable option for Australian fans to purchase K-pop albums. But for those readers who may not have heard of yourself or your website before, would you like to start by introducing yourself and discussing a little about K-pop Bazaar.

Aly: Hi, I'm Aly and I'm the owner of K-Pop Bazaar. While I initially started doing K-pop group orders in 2019, I transitioned my K-pop work to be a business in late 2020 as a result of increased orders as a Group Order Manager (GOM) in which I started working together with Sarah and Julia. I recently quite my full-time corporate job to pursue this store as my full-time work in late 2021.

Sarah: Hi! I'm Sarah. I'm from America, currently living in Japan, with plans to move to Australia in the future. Because of my location, I mostly do things like work on the website or answer emails / DMs. Also, if we sell a Japanese release, chances are your order has made a pit stop at my location.

Julia: Hi, I'm Julia. I currently work at K-Pop Bazaar and do a variety of things such as packing, product photos / editing, and doing graphics for the website.

As always, to begin with, I thought we might cover a few quick-fire questions to get to know you a little better. So, who is your favourite K-pop group or soloist, and why?

Aly: Stray Kids, there's a lot about them to love.

Sarah: Stray Kids! Where do I start? Of course their music, but they seem like such genuine people that I can't help but fall for them.

Julia: My favourite groups are Stray Kids and ITZY, and my favourite soloist is IU. I love the music that each of these artists release, as well as their personality!

Which K-pop group or soloist do you think is underrated or underappreciated by K-pop stans?

Aly: ONF, they're currently on hiatus due to all of the members going on military service at the same time late last year (unheard of in K-pop). But their group concept in unique, and I would encourage more people to give them a listen.

Sarah: They've disbanded and most of the members are doing solo work now, but B.A.P. If their management hadn't been so terrible, I know they would have been so much bigger.

Julia: For me, I'd say ASTRO. Although the group is quite known because of Eunwoo, overall I think ASTRO doesn't get as much recognition as a whole. I hope more people check them out because I really enjoy their music.

What is your earliest K-pop memory, and how did you get into the K-pop fandom to begin with?

Aly: Big Bang in 2007 with "Lies". From then on, I was a huge fan of a lot of second gen groups. I wasn't involved in K-pop fandom spaces back then, I think a lot has changed from then until now.

Sarah: My earliest K-pop memory is "Gee" by SNSD popping up in my YouTube recommendations. I clicked play and the rest was history. I quickly fell into the K-pop rabbit hole and here I am over ten years later.

Julia: My family friend first introduced me to K-pop in 2010 by showing me "Mirotic" by DBSK. From there, I discovered other groups such as SNSD, 2NE1, 2PM, Big Bang, etc. I was a casual listener / fan from then and became more involved after my first concert in 2018.

If you could sit down to a private dinner with one idol where you could talk about anything you wanted, who would it be and why?

Sarah: Bang Chan of Stray Kids. One because he's my ult, but two, I have so many questions for him about making music and just life in general. I think it'd be a very enlightening dinner.

Aly: Same with Sarah, Bang Chan of Stray Kids. He's someone I respect and admire a lot.

And one last quick-fire question: what K-pop song are you currently playing on repeat, and why?

Aly: "RUN2U" by STAYC.

Sarah: "Moonlight" by TWICE!

Julia: "Gingamingayo" by Billlie, "RUN2U" by STAYC, "Smiley" by YENA, and "Darari" by Treasure.

Thank you for going through those rapid-fire questions with me. Now, it's time to get a little more in-depth. K-Pop Bazaar is a steadily growing website, and with more and more Australian fans finding out about it, it's quickly becoming the premier website for Australians to purchase K-pop albums at an affordable price. What is it about your online store that you think has Australian K-pop fans gravitate towards it?

Aly: I think it's because we are fans ourselves. Most of the time, we've imported things that we wanted ourselves but couldn't get here easily. We also love talking to our customers to understand what they want in our decisions to stock things.

Sarah: I think something that really helps is that we are also fans. We want to cater to fans because these are our people. I love hearing reviews when people pull their bias! It makes me happy because I completely understand that feeling.

Julia: I think Australian K-pop fans gravitate towards K-Pop Bazaar as they can easily access items such as merchandise, Japan / US releases, and store benefit photocards which are harder to buy personally. As Aly and Sarah have mentioned, we are also fans / collectors so we have stocked items that we are after and believe other fans would be interested in them too.

Previously, you were a well-known group order manager, with many people recognising you from K-pop buy and sell groups on social media. What was the turning point or decisive moment that made you decide to start K-Pop Bazaar as an online store? And, for Sarah and Julia, what made you decide to join Aly with the business?

Aly: I got too busy! I really needed help due to time constraints. I was working nine-to-five in my day job, and then working until 2 a.m. some days packing outside of my day job hours doing K-pop work. I knew Sarah and Julia from fandom, so I asked them to help me, and here we are!

Sarah: I think it originally just started off as a joke. Like haha wouldn't it be cool if I helped with the website? And Aly was like, yeah sure! And here we are!

Julia: When Aly asked me to join her, I wasn't working at the time and thought it'd be great to have a job doing something I enjoy / am interested in.

What are some of the difficulties and some of the benefits that each of you have encountered in running your own online K-pop store? And what are some of the benefits and difficulties that you have come across in running a business with close friends?

Aly: One of the benefits is that this is something I'm very passionate about. I take K-pop seriously and I want to do better for Aussie K-pop fans - the goal has stayed the same in that we want to make things more accessible and easier.

A lot of problems have occurred due to logistic issues from COVID-19 (unexpected delays, etc.) which is very frustrating to deal with.

I think one of the things - both a positive and negative about working with Sarah and Julia is that we can communicate openly about problems. Depending on how things are, it can be difficult to hear issues, but to get better, we need to be critical of ourselves for improvement to the business and for our customers.

Sarah: A benefit is that I always know where to go for K-pop goods! I guess a difficulty is the fact that we are only a team of three (with only two packing and sending out), so it can be difficult when people expect giant corporation type speed. We are doing our best with what we have. As for working with friends, it's nice to have people you get along with as coworkers. A downside might be that it's hard to confront your friends if they've made a mistake / dropped the ball, but I think that we understand that it isn't personal, and helps us grow and be able to better our business.

Julia: As K-pop is something we enjoy and are interested in, the benefits of working at K-Pop Bazaar is that we're always surrounded by K-pop, whether that'd be albums, merch, photocards, or catching up with new releases by listening / watching music videos. One of the difficulties would be the pace we can pack / fulfill orders for certain new releases as there are only two of us packing and sending out orders.

Running an online K-pop store must come with a lot of work? If you don't mind me asking, would you be able to go through the process of the announcement of an album being released, to a fan ordering it through your website, and the album making its way to the fan's front door?

Aly: Typically we get announcements of albums from the music publisher / supplier in Korea, and the groups' social media. Usually we get information on pricing, previews of the albums content when the announcement happens, and we process it to be available for pre-order on the website as per the release schedule.

On the release date of the album, albums typically are dispatched from our Korean suppliers directly to us, or go to our Korean warehouse, where it will be shipped to us.

Once it arrives to us, we can start to ship it out to customer's doors. It varies for each group / publisher but the whole process typically takes two months (from customer order to customer's door) due to the pre-order period and the shipping from Korea to Australia and everything else involved.

The albums also don't actually stick with us for very long when pre-ordered. Most groups' releases we pack it for shipping to customers on the same day that the shipment arrives to us from Korea - most of the waiting game is due to transit time (either being processed domestically in Korea; or in transit from Korea to Australia)!

If you could only choose one, what is a development or milestone you would like the K-Pop Bazaar online store to reach? Is there a particular number of albums you would like to sell? Or a number of orders you'd like to fulfill in a year? Would it be opening a brick-and-mortar store?

Aly: Opening a brick-and-mortar store is actually one of our goals for this year (2022) since we're facing space constraints again. We're just seeing if it is financially viable right now before we go for it! We'll probably be looking at somewhere in Sydney's west, since we know a lot of our customers (and both myself and Julia) are based around there.

Sarah: I definitely think opening a storefront would be a huge accomplishment!

Julia: As Aly and Sarah have mentioned, our goal would be opening a physical store!

For those who might not have been aware, Aly has been a group order manager since 2019. However, many fans may not have ever purchased through a group order before, and might not be sure how it works. Would you be able to tell us what ordering an album through a group order manager entails?

Aly: Group Orders (G.O) is when a Group Order Manager (GOM) organises a group buy for a product. It's a shared item buying activity where different people can put their own products in the same purchase cart organised by the GOM.

The GOM organises the details such as: buying of merchandise from the online store, collecting payment from the individuals interested in the GO, packaging and shipping of items locally.

It is similar to wholesale buying where you can save on shipping and import costs, so it ends up cheaper to join a GO than to buy that one product direct yourself from Korea for some products.

It is very prominent in K-pop due to the difficulty of obtaining merch in specific countries. Some K-pop stores don't ship overseas (within Korea only), some don't ship to your country, or some only accept specific payment methods that you cannot use (eg. Korean bank transfer). Another benefit (for album group orders) is photocard pooling for your preferred member "bias" for K-pop photocard collectors.

Usually GOM's will post a form on social media that gives the information on the specific GO they are running. Fansites will also link country GOM's underneath their product posts on their social media.

Working for an online K-pop store means that you would often be more up-to-date on the latest K-pop releases than the regular fan. It would also mean that you have access to more albums than most people as well. So, for each of you, could you tell us a bit about the size of your K-pop collections, and a bit about what some of your favourite items might be?

Aly: My most treasured K-pop item is my signed Stray Kids "Levanter" fansign that I had the pleasure to attend in Korea in early January 2020, before COVID-19 hit. It brings back a lot of good memories because I was able to meet 6/8 members of Stray Kids face-to-face back then. It was crazy to think that would be one of the last times you can meet idols face-to-face in fansigns for a long time after that!

Sarah: For albums, I currently only collect Stray Kids; I have all their albums. As for photocards, I collect three members (3RACHA) and my collection is almost complete (except I don't collect all store POBs because I would go absolutely broke). My favourite items are my signed Bang Chan album that I got from my video call fansign, and my two signed polaroids that I was lucky enough to win!

Julia: I have albums and photocard collections for quite a few groups such as NCT, Astro, Twice, and Blackpink, but the main groups that I collect and buy all their releases are Stray Kids and ITZY. My favourite item in my collection would be Han / Seungmin's Mwave "Miroh" photocard!

At the moment, K-Pop Bazaar stocks quite a range of items for fans to peruse. These include albums, photocards, lightsticks, merchandise, DVD and Blu-Ray, posters, photobooks, season's greetings, original soundtrack albums, magazines, K-beauty products, as well as cases, binders, and accessories. What is something else each of you would like to try and start getting in stock for your consumers? For example, some online stores include pages specifically for Korean snacks, or even CD players.

Aly: I'm always on the look-out for things that could compliment a K-pop fan's lifestyle that they can't get easily. So the more people tell us things they're looking for, that's the sort of stuff I'll look to start getting in-stock other than the usual official K-pop albums / merch releases!

Sarah: Clothes, maybe? Accessories?

Julia: Possibly some clothes from brands that idols have worn and Korean stationery such as stickers and polca / top loader deco are quite popular at the moment.

Although it is very highly likely a majority Australian consumer base that K-Pop Bazaar serves, do you often have orders placed for other international fans as well? I imagine fans from New Zealand often have the same difficulty in managing to order K-pop albums and merchandise at a reasonable price due to the shipping costs to our generally isolated location on the world scale. Is a focus on other nearby countries something you are considering in the future for your online store?

Aly: Yes, we definitely get international orders. We found that a lot of Canadians order from our store too, but when looking into it, it's because Japan don't ship direct to Canada currently. So a lot of Canadians have ordered their K-pop products (especially Japanese releases) from our store. I think local is definitely our focus, but as we grow, and hopefully get better shipping rates; we can look at international scale too.

Sarah: Yes! We definitely have international orders.

Julia: Yep, we do get quite a few overseas orders, especially for photocards!

As someone who has been doing group orders since prior to the pandemic, and who has been running an online store throughout it, what are some of the differences that you have noticed in the purchasing behaviours of K-pop fans over the last few years as the pandemic has set in?

Aly: Yes, I did some concert-merch group orders prior to the pandemic. I actually focused initially on international fans looking to buy Australian-specific K-pop releases prior to the pandemic. Concert-merch orders have become non-existent due to the pandemic, but in its place came store pre-order benefits and video calls.

Video calls was not a thing prior to 2020, however as fans wanted to see their idols, a company decided to capitalise on it to allow online album sales for fans' chance to meet their idols through video calls. Even as face-to-face fansigns are back again, I think K-pop entertainment companies will still continue to do video calls alongside face-to-face fansigns moving forward. It's good money for the agencies, and also opportunity for fans who cannot easily travel to Korea, to meet and talk to the idols.

I think in the heights of the pandemic lockdown, people definitely spent more money on K-pop / merch due to inability to travel / do offline activities (I mean concerts? Who knows when it's possible again when you're in lockdown?), but these days it's returned to a steady period of merch buying just like pre-COVID.

Sarah: People buy a lot more albums, especially because of the store POBs that seem to have grown exponentially.

Julia: As there have been quite a few online merch releases and albums with various store benefits, people have definitely been buying merch and albums a lot more.

For fans who may have been looking at your site and considering purchasing their very first piece of K-pop merchandise or album, what would each of you recommend to them as a good way to begin their K-pop collection?

Aly: Buy the album that means the most to you. It can be your favourite album, a signed album, or something precious. Or if you want something you can use, a T-shirt or a keyring is an easy purchase to show your support for your favourite group and can use in your daily life.

Sarah: If you can, start with that group's era that you like the best! Also see if people are selling albums without the photocards! It can often be cheaper and you can look for the photocards you want separately.

Julia: I'd say buying the album that got you interested in the group would be a good start! From there, you can start working your way through the group's discography and slowly expand your collection.

"Love Synonym #1" was the very first K-pop album I ever purchased, and I've never regretted it.

With hundreds of albums being released every single year from within the K-pop music industry, it can sure be very overwhelming for fans to try and keep up with. And that can make it very difficult for fans to find what are some of the better albums that have been released. So, for each of you, what is your favourite K-pop album that has been released? And what album which has been announced to come out this year are you the most excited for?

Aly: Favourite album is "Miroh" by Stray Kids, and most excited for "Oddinary" by Stray Kids.

Sarah: My favourite album ever? That's an impossible question! This year I'm of course excited for "Oddinary" by Stray Kids!

In the past, when we have interviewed K-pop commentary YouTubers and idols, they recommended others for our readers to check out. We thought we'd extend the same invitation to yourselves. It would be very strange for a store to recommend their competitors, so we'll change it up a little bit. Who is someone in the K-pop community that you would recommend for people to check out, whether that be a YouTuber, idol, or site?

Aly: FormOfTherapy!

Sarah: I love Andy and Jas on YouTube! They do such fun reactions and Andy sometimes does lyric deconstructions which are always interesting!

Julia: Jeff Avenue, Jordan Orme, and Form Of Therapy!

Thank you so much for taking the time to go through this interview with us! For one final question, do you have any news, or anything else at all, that you would like to share with your fans?

Aly: Thank you for interviewing us, it's definitely exciting to answer the questions you've given us. We also really appreciate everyone who has purchased with us, thank you for supporting our local small business.

Sarah: Thank you for having such interesting questions for us to answer! To those reading, thank you for your support so far and we hope you continue to support us in the future!

Julia: Thank you for interviewing us! Please check out our business if you haven't and thank you to everyone who has supported us!

If you haven't already, you should absolutely check out K-Pop Bazaar's online store and their range of affordable albums and merchandise.

You can also check out their Twitter @kpopbazaar, and their website at kpopbazaar.com.au.

Once again, we here at KpopWise would like to thank Aly, Sarah, and Julia from K-Pop Bazaar for taking the time out of their busy schedules to interview with us.

Ford Carter

Ford Carter is an online blogger studying journalism who's hundreds of articles across half a dozen fansites from the music and television industries have now been read more than 300,000 times. From his home in regional Australia, you'll often find him binging kdramas or rewatching old editions of the Eurovision Song Contest.

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post