(Yonhap Feature) As birth rates drop, baby brands turn to overseas

By Lee Minji

SEOUL, July 28 (Yonhap) -- There once was a time when South Korea promoted family planning slogans like "Two is too many!" or "Have fewer for a brighter life!" to curb its ballooning population.

Three decades later, the government is wrestling with the seemingly impossible mission of raising the country's low birthrate that stood at 1.19 last year, the lowest among member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

While the graying demographic landscape has opened up new opportunities for the healthcare and service sectors, it has closed doors for businesses that rely on infants and tots.

These businesses found answers elsewhere.

Local brands of baby products have been struggling not just with falling birthrates but a new shopping trend in Korea.

"Jikgu," short for direct purchasing in Korean, is the latest fad, and tech-savvy moms are going online to buy directly from overseas shops.

"I've bought seven out of 10 baby products via jikgu. It's not that local brands lag, but I can shop from a much bigger lineup of products at a cheaper price," said 29-year-old Cho Min-jung, who is expecting her first child.

Names of foreign brands are quickly spreading through word-of-mouth as practical mothers share their product reviews online through blogs specializing in childcare, according to Cho.

Conversely, some of South Korea's biggest baby product brands are tapping emerging markets to pare losses from the rapidly shrinking market at home.