Beginner Friendly Korean Buying Service: A Dowaja Review

Today's post is going to feature some of my favourite things: snails, hanbang, pH testing, sheet masks, nerdiness, spreadsheets, and buying services.  Also lots of haul eyecandy of all of the above.

The haul in all it's "please don't start raining until after I finish this photo" glory.
There's no haul quite as special as a buying service haul; when your grabby hands get a hold of goodies that would otherwise never be within your reach.  The thrill of trying new, strange things is something I'm absolutely addicted to, and buying services help me supply that habit.

In this post:
  • Korean buying service 101
  • A sad update
  • My experience with Dowaja vs other buying services
  • The goods: what I bought, where I bought it, and what it cost
  • Final thoughts

I had to call in a complaint on my new USPS delivery person to get it, but this haul is finally here and there's snails, hanbang, pH strips, and sample swag waiting.  Let's do this!

Korean buying service 101
  • What is a buying service?
A buying service is like a friend-who-lives-in-Korea (or whichever country) who you ask "if I send you the funds, can you buy me X thing and mail it to me pretty please?" and instead of you paying for their trouble in late-night girlchat about her terrible ex, belated birthday presents, and how much you two miss one another, you pay them a small fee for their trouble.

Buying services charge for 2 separate costs: the initial cost of buying your items, and then once they arrive and are weighed, the cost to mail them to you.  Then you get pretties:

Unboxing happiness: greeted by snails.
  • How do you know what to tell them to buy for you?
If you follow my blog, you'll be very familiar with my addiction to getting hard-to-find Korean goods by using a buying service- even though I don't speak Korean.  In fact, I teamed up with fluent-in-Korean & translation-powerhouse blogger Lin Lin Hime to write: Kahime and Snow’s Guide to Shopping for Hard-to-Find Korean Products When You Don’t Know Korean.

In that post, we covered:
  • How to locate the products you want
  • A list of Korean web shops/online malls
  • Key search words in Korean and English, including terms, ingredients, and brand names
  • How to collect the data you'll need to provide the buying service
  • A spreadsheet that auto-calculates (in real time) the actual cost of your items so you can comparison shop
So if you are new to buying services, definitely check out that post to get started.
  • Should I use a buying service?
The last point in the above list is extremely important, because using a buying service only makes sense to me if 1. the product cannot be purchased anywhere else, not even from any of the international Korean e-tailers, or 2. it's so drastically cheaper to purchase it directly from Korea that even the cost of shipping still leaves you with an epic deal.  For the latter, the spreadsheet is an absolute sanity-saver, because you can see what your actual cost before shipping would be, so you can look at your standard options and decide if the savings will offset the cost of shipping.

You can read about how to estimate shipping here: Making the Most out of K-Beauty: 5 Simple Hacks

A sad update

10-6-2015 Update: I am afraid I have some sad news.  Dowaja has decided (for now, at least) to close their business, for the below reasons posted on their site:
We’re sure some of you may have heard the news by now, but for the immediate future we’ve decided to suspend our services here at dowaja.
Before anything else, we just want to let those with active orders know that their orders will be completed. If you’ve paid or received an invoice, we will complete your orders. 
It’s quite an understatement to say that it was a difficult decision, but in the end it’s one that we felt we really had to make. dowaja is run by two people in our free time. Before we started, we had hoped that we could do this full time one day. In the past couple of weeks, we got to the point where we had to make that a decision. After some soul-searching and serious adult thinking, we realized it just wouldn’t be possible.
We have had such a great experience running dowaja over the past few months. We’ve been so fortunate to have met and interacted with a lot of great people. It’s definitely the thing that has kept us going this long. Seriously, you guys are awesome! Even when we’ve had delays, back-orders, neglected emails, and what have you—people have been so patient and understanding.
If you need help with an active order, please use our contact form or email us directly at dowajahelpme (at)
Thank you so much for your support and faith during this time.
All the best,
Team dowaja!
-Kevin and Min
Wait ... what?!  image from
I suspect that Dowaja became a victim of their own success; they offered a wonderful service for a very undervalued rate, and I can absolutely see how it was not a viable long-term situation.   I really wish Kevin and Min all the best- they are wonderful people and were a pleasure to work with.  I sincerely hope that one day they might return in another form; I know I would have paid at least double for the 'personal shopping' type service they provided- 10% was a very low cost considering the high quality of service that was offered.  . 

Most of the information in this post (the buying service 101, the details of the goods I got, etc) is still relevant, but Dowaja is no more. 

My experience with Dowaja vs other buying services

Note: Per the above update, this section is no longer as relevant, but I am going to leave it here for those curious as to what sorts of differences they may find in using a buying service.

Up until now, I've used Avecko's buying service, and was mostly happy with them- but as they became more popular, they also became more restrictive and updated their website ordering system that made the process less transparent.  There were also issues of delays due to them being swamped, which is understandable.

So when Dowaja launched their service, I was curious as to what they would bring to the table that was different.

'Dowaja' literally means 'help me' in Korean.  So cute.

From their first communications, the primary trait that stood out to me was their sense of humour.  The Dowaja team, although they are very serious about customer service and as dedicated and enthusiastic as one would want, they're also downright adorable and very funny.  It's refreshing, and charming.

For example, when we were discussing whether they could export dried, whole herbs (the kind you buy by the scoop) they had the following suggestions:
Anyhow, we have two ideas.  
The first option is sourcing them online from sellers like the one above. This would be the simplest and probably wouldn't cost much more than making the trek to a market to be honest. If 100g is still too much (or if you're worried about shipping costs), we can send whatever amount you like and have Min's (our lovely product sourcer) mother make us some tea or 삼계탕 with the leftovers in your honor. We'll take pictures, I promise! 
[Note: 삼계탕 Samgyetang is a type of chicken soup made with herbs, and looks like this:]

image from
The other option is to head to a traditional market and get yelled at by the 할머니s for buying such small quantities :P (we can take pictures of this too!). If you're really set on this option, we can figure something out, but I really feel like the first option would be simplest--no pressure ;). 
The thought of the poor team at Dowaja facing down a fierce 할머니 (grandmother) immediately makes me think of this:
image from
Dowaja's adorable game is strong.  Between photojournalling the authentic "Korean mom making you drink herb tea" offer (to save the shipping costs of the unwanted extras, to boot) and the promise to brave the wrath of the shop grannies was too much.  Bahahahaha!  I'm dead.  While Avecko is polite and professional and I appreciate that, Dowaja is less formal; they're warm, genuine, and willing to interact with you in a very real, sincere way.

That also fits with their 'style', which is rescuing hapless shoppers who don't speak Korean, can't find what they're looking for, are overwhelmed and panicking, or need a lot of hand holding.

They're also patient. Really, really patient.  I have a total of 88 emails in my chain of communication with them, plus two skype chats!  They put up with me trying to coordinate a group buy for weeks (and during my move no less) and never once did I feel like they'd want to strangle me, and I'd want to strange me by that point!

I asked them if they'd be willing to share a bit about how they got started, and they graciously did so:
Min and I have both wanted to start a small-business for awhile. In particular, I've always wanted to do something online. We were both inspired by services that do the opposite, i.e. Koreans who want to buy stuff from U.S. (all praise Amazon), European, and Japanese sites. You won't believe this, but it's actually cheaper to buy a lot of Korean products from the U.S. My LG TV and Samsung laptop were both bought through U.S. based buying services and shipped to Korea. Crazy right? 
When we originally started, we wanted to focus more on fashion as it seemed like there are quite a few retailers already doing skin care / beauty products. However, we've always had so much more interest in the latter so we've shifted our focus. We are both internet nerds and do 90% of our shopping online (I do my weekly grocery shopping from my smart phone, Korea #1!) and it seemed like it would be something we could do well.
Adorable.  (Also, grocery shopping from my phone?!  Yes please!)  I don't at all mean that in a patronizing way either; Dowaja did an excellent job of sleuthing out things based on vague descriptions, screenshots of images, and by developing an understanding of my tastes so they could make recommendations.  And they did a phenomenal job.

That's where they really excel, in my opinion, over other buying services- like their namesake, Dowaja is the buying service you want when you don't know what you want.  They managed to find me things that I'd never have found on my own.

The goods: what I bought, where I bought it, and what it cost

You know, come to think of it, I'm not exactly sure where my items came from, because one of the services that Dowaja offers is a price check on all your items to see if they can find it somewhere else for cheaper.  Ok, scratch the 'where' part, because I don't actually have links to the final sources.  In fact, my first item wasn't a link at all; it was just an image of these adorable snail masks:

The Skin Shop Snail mask packs
4 flavours of snail mask: EGF, Ginseng, Dew, and Snow.
Specifically, the one I sent them was of the "Snail + Snow" mask; clearly we were destined for one another.  These masks were $0.66 each, plus a domestic shipping fee, for a total of $5.28 USD for 8 masks; I purchased two of each type,

Per the packaging, here's the 'flavours':
  • Snail mask pack with E.G.F - Skin Rejuvenation
  • Snail mask pack with red ginseng - Anti-wrinkle Function Certification 
  • Snail mask pack with dews - Moisturizing
  • Snail mask pack with snow - Whitening Function Certification
I'm looking forward to trying these; I'm a longtime snailfan  and these let me double down on snails + other mask ingredients

Sulwhasoo Perfecting Cushion in #13 - Refill Only

I already own the Sulwhasoo Perfecting Cushion peony case, which was limited edition, and I have it filled with a Sulwhasoo Perfecting Brightening cushion in #17; sadly it's too dark for me. I wanted to try the lightest shade, which is #13, but I didn't need a whole cushion, just a refill insert.

New #13 insert + my original LE peony case which holds the Perfecting Cushion Brightening #17 right now.
Dowaja was able to find me the refill for $16.73, and it retails for around $25 through regular channels (sometimes you can find it on ebay for slightly less) so considering that I was already paying shipping for the overall order, it was a good deal.

Cremorlab T.E.N. Cremor Cleansing Veil 70 sheets

Encouraged by my love of the Cremorlab T.E.N. Cremor Cleansing Gel Oil, blogger adordee's love of their cleansing sheets, and my love for adordee, it seemed only natural for me to try them.

Holy swag, batman!  Two full size sheet masks as free samples?!
Cremorlab is hard to source in the US; Peach and Lily carry them, and they're not badly priced considering that it's 70 sheets, but Dowaja was able to find it for me for $11.60 USD.  Again, shipping is always a factor but I was already committed for shipping anyway.  Throw 'em in!

Speaking of sample swag, I somehow ended up with a veritable glut of samples:

So many samples!
In fact, I think that only the bottom row of samples were meant for me; I think the others were destined for melubbeauty's LJH Tea Tree 90 Essence portion of the haul; I have a package of decants destined for her to swatch regardless, so I'll send these to her in that box.

The bottom row is Saeng Green (Saengreen?  SaenGreen?) samples that came with the product I was the most excited about:

Saeng Green Vidanjasoo Skin Gel

It wouldn't be a Snow Haul if there was no Hanbang, right?  As soon as I saw this magnificent beauty on Gmarket, I had to have it, in all it's fermented-apricot glory:

Dat packaging.
 What is it?  Not really sure.  What is it supposed to do?  No idea, really.  It's some sort of serum/gel/essence sort of thing, but I'd seen the brand mentioned only once before, in a discussion of Hanbang skincare (table for one, please!) and the price was right ($26.12), so I decided it would be my 'wild and crazy purchase' for this haul.  Risk can be good; it's how I discovered the Beauty of Joseon Dynasty cream Joseon Beauty cream aka Joseon Woman cream last spring, which is now blowing up all over Amazon, ebay, and Korean international sellers.

It might turn out to be terrible, but look at that packaging detail:

Etched design in the cap
I'll be testing this out after I finish testing this next product; this is where Dowaja really came through and blew me away with their abilities to 'help me'.  I told them that I was looking for a low-pH cleanser and gave them a budget (under $30 if I remember correctly) and they were able to find me not one, but three different options, and I chose this one as they advised that this brand was the most popular of the options and I loved how intensely nerdy the product page was.

Medicean (메디션) Cleanser

This cleanser comes in both an Oily and Dry version; I chose the Oily version as my skin is clog-prone and I prefer foaming cleansers.  It was $15.73, so well under budget, and looked nerdy.  I like nerdy.

It also came with a booklet and a surprise.
This cleanser is openly advertised on the company's site as being pH 5.5, if you're not familiar with the impact of pH on the skin, or you'd like to see some scientific sources to support it, check out my post on Why the pH of Your Cleanser Matters as well as Skinandtonic's post The Importance of Fatty Acids, pH & the Moisture Barrier: How I Eliminated my Acne & Decreased my Skin Sensitivity.

I will warn you that you cannot always trust that the advertised pH from companies or vendors; I once had a company rep tell me a cleanser was 'pH balanced for the skin' but it actually had a pH of 9 (?!!) and there have even been incidents where the advertised pH on the bottle did not match the actual pH when tested.  Fanserviced-b also posted this shortly after the above fiasco:

I'm right there with her; I wanna see the receipts- show me the strips.  I care a lot about pH testing as accurately as possible in a non-lab setting, so much so that I actually have a two-point digital pH meter as well as multi-indicator test strips.  I actually test cleansers on their own, then mixed with tap water if that's how it's designed to be applied, and if there is a discrepancy, a third time with distilled water.  I have #pHtrustissues. 

However, to my ... flabbergasted amazement, this company ... well, see for yourself:

That, my friends, is a little sachet containing pH strips and instructions on how to use them. And a pH chart printed right onto the box itself.  Holy snails.  What?!  WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?!

I've seen pH-conscious skincare dismissed from K-Beauty as being something that Koreans disregard as a matter of preference for the squeaky-clean feeling of high pH cleansers, but clearly there is an equivalent niche of science-driven skincare fans out there- skincare nerds just like us.  Alternative theory: Korea is catching onto the pH trend; ingredient-focused brand Cosrx recently developed a low-pH cleanser due to the high demand.  I assumed that was due to the international K-Beauty market of Cosrx, but who knows, maybe it's a rising interest in Korea as well?  Fascinating either way.

As a counterpoint though: these single-indicator strips are notoriously imprecise that's why I prefer to use multi-indicator type, like these ones from Amazon.  I did some preliminary tests and the foam makes it tricky to read as it adds a white cast to the strip- I'll have to test it with the digital meter before I can confidently say it matches the 5.5 claim.  Right now it's looking more like a 6, but we'll see.

Final thoughts

So, would I use Dowaja again?  Absolutely.  Will I recommend them to people, especially people who are intimidated by trying to find products when they don't know Korean?  Yep.  Do I think there is room for both them and Avecko?  Yep.  Avecko and Dowaja use a different range of shipping options; if you're considering massive hauls (especially group hauls), Avecko's ePostg option may be cheaper, but for small hauls, Dowaja's shipping costs are much lower.   I also discovered that it's actually cheaper to order group hauls separately rather than as a group with Dowaja; one of my party's shipping costs were around $6, the other was less than $11.

Avecko's interface is good for people who are very experienced with buying services and/or are fluent enough in Korean not to need much handholding; when people know what they want, and want to get in their links:, get invoiced, and get the show on the road.  Dowaja is good for people who are new to buying services, who don't have the exact product listings that they want, and who need someone to give them a little more TLC than Avecko provides.  They're extremely responsive, flexible, attentive, and patient, so ideal for beginners.

Also, Dowaja won me over by sending me a summary of my order, with their updated prices, in spreadsheet format for me to look at; you know how I am about spreadsheets.  I've heard from some folks that Avecko is not spreadsheet-friendly; Dowaja prefers that people use the order form on their site but if you're flailing around with a giant sheet of items and need them to come rescue you, you can send it to them to look over.

I also like the affordability of Dowaja for smaller hauls; my shipping ended up being around $20 but that's because I maxed out the 1.5kg limit of k-packet (I think it was k-packet) but certainly the ultra-low costs of the two other people in our group order shows that you don't have to make a big haul to make shipping worthwhile.  That also makes it a great beginner option; you don't have to break the bank when you're ready to dip a toe in.

And with that, we're done!  I hope if you've been nervous about trying any sort of buying service, you'll find the resources linked here to be helpful to you. :)

**Disclaimer: All products reviewed/mentioned in my blog, are 100% purchased with my own money, with a single exception of a press sample I tested & reviewed in 2015 which swore me off of them forever.  This blog contains  both affiliate and non-affiliate links, and clicking the former before you shop means that this blog may receive a small commission to assist in this blog supporting itself.  Please see my Contact Info & Disclaimer policy for more information.


  1. I did not have a great experience with Avecko! :( I used your spreadsheet to calculate the cost prior to shipping and guess what, each of the items I ordered for through Avecko, were charged a $1-2 higher than the conversion rate, in the invoice that they sent me. I confronted (mailed) Avecko about this but received no response. :( I still ordered the products because I wanted them badly but I don't think I'm going back to Avecko. Thanks for discovering a new service. Worth a try, I think. :)

    1. I am sorry to hear your experience was poor; I have heard mixed reviews since Avecko started getting a serious amount of traffic :(

      Hopefully if you do end up using Dowaja you have a better time!

    2. I hope they (Dowaja) come back. Any other buying service that you could recommend in the meantime?

    3. Avecko is the only other one that I've used, alas :(

  2. Also, how much do Dowaja charge for handling? I remember Avecko charging 5% or $5 whichever is higher.

    1. Both Avecko and Dowaja charge a 10% fee :)

  3. Thank you for this, Cat. I've been trying to decide if I should go for an online buying service, but I have limitations on my total order cost because of customs. This service appears to be ideal for me and I liked that the people who run the website are responsive to messages and actually go the extra mile to find you the best deal for a product you want. :)

    1. Hi Kissel you know that is a good point; when I get home to my pc I will add that Dowaja did mark down the cost on my package, which is always a nice courtesy. ;)

  4. I've been wanting to try a buying service since seeing the significant savings you got on your LJH tea tree essence. Frankly wrapping my head around the Avecko, hangul and spread sheet wasn't something I've had time for lately. This looks like a potentially more doable way for me to try and haul the LJH and some Goodal products I've been eyeing. Thanks for putting this together!

    1. " Frankly wrapping my head around the Avecko, hangul and spread sheet wasn't something I've had time for lately. " I completely understand. :) It's good to also have an option where you can provide any old link to a Korean product (even from a US site) and ask for help finding it as you flail around, and Dowaja will do their best to rescue you. ;)

  5. Yay! I'm so glad to know they're living up to expectations. I have several potentially dumb questions though. If *they* order something from within Korea and have it sent to them, then send it to you, you pay their in-Korea shipping as well as to-US shipping? Is that what you meant by a domestic shipping charge? How do I get over my fear that shipping will be insane and I won't save any money? Can one find out a likely range of pricing?

    1. Not dumb questions at all! Yes, anything that it costs them to order your stuff, including domestic shipping within KR to their office, has to be paid by you. They only make a 10% comission from whatever you buy, so you bear all the burden for the costs of the products.

      In terms of shipping costs, check out these shipping estimation tips I put in here: that should help! :)

  6. There is definitely a niche demand for low pH cleansers. Even the Suiskin in the Korean Glossy box tested at pH 5.
    Up until recently this has been the monopoly (well, nearly) of dermocosmetic brands.
    At the start of winter last year I noticed that suddenly there was a flurry of low pH releases.
    So in that respect CosRx has been rather slow to catch on.
    Having said that, 90% of the market is still strictly above pH 7.

    1. It's interesting that it's moving beyond the niche- I think that it's not likely to see truly widespread change vs remaining something that only skincare hobbists are interested in. It will be interesting to see how the market changes, if at all, over the next few years.

  7. How did you like the Saeng Green gel? It looks so cool. I can't find it anywhere though :/