[VIEWPOINT]The Shuttle Bus Ban Should Be Scuttled

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[VIEWPOINT]The Shuttle Bus Ban Should Be Scuttled

For a long time, the pursuit of "customer satisfaction" has been at the center of corporate management. In the United States, when a dispute occurs between customer and company, the customer almost always wins.

A little over a month ago, a Los Angeles court ruled that the tobacco giant Philip Morris should pay over $3 billion in damages to a 56-year-old man who was diagnosed with lung cancer two years ago and had smoked for 43 years.

Considering that it is common knowledge that smoking is bad for your health and nobody forced the man to smoke, I wonder how that kind of verdict could have been reached. Anyway, this case reflects people's belief that "the customer is always right."

However, in Korea we sometimes go against this belief. The government tells companies to take measures that will give their customers less satisfaction. The Fair Trade Commission, a government watchdog, bans companies from giving their customers free gifts. The government believes it can regulate how much companies spend on sales promotions.

There can never be too much competition in the world, and there can never be too much customer satisfaction. The keener the competition and the more emphasis on customer satisfaction, the better off are customers.

A new high was set in customer dissatisfaction ratings when the government banned discount and department stores from operating free shuttle bus services to their stores. The government explained that the move was aimed at protecting the profits of traditional markets and small merchants. But the whole idea was ill-considered. No one is benefiting from the ban on shuttle buses. Small neighborhood shops and traditional markets had campaigned for the buses to be banned because they thought they would get more customers. Now they see they won't.

People are so accustomed to the merits of big discount stores and department stores that they are loath to give them up. Discount stores offer much more competitive prices than small corner shops - a carton of ramyon instant noodles, for example, sell for a few hundred won less. Discount stores offer customers well-organized aisles, variety, space to move in and a systematized refund system.

Local bus companies have also been disappointed by the results of the ban. They and the government forgot that few shoppers carrying heavy bags want to walk to the bus stop. Now housewives have been organizing their own collective excursions to the big stores in their cars, or waiting for their husbands to drive them after work. The net result is more privately driven vehicles on the streets.

Paradoxically, the big stores have been the main beneficiaries of the ban, because there has been no significant drop in sales and they don't have the expense of running the buses. So the ban has had results exactly opposite to those intended.

Let's look briefly to Japan. When convenience stores - medium-sized, standardized chain stores - first arrived, they sold only daily necessities. But they soon realized that to make a profit, they would have to expand their services. Now, getting photos developed or sending faxes is only the beginning of what you can do there. They offer home delivery, sell movie tickets and allow customers to pay household bills there. And because they are open 24 hours, customers find them much more convenient than banks.

The appearance of these stores was at first only a worry for local "mom and pop" shops. Now the convenience stores' versatility means they are feared by several retail and business sectors. But, despite that fear, I have never heard that any artificial measure resulted in a "victory" against these stores.

Ten days have passed since the shuttle buses were banned - to the boos of many objectors and the cheers of a few supporters. The outcome is already evident; the shuttle bus ban proved a misstep. Let the shuttle buses run again.


The writer is the international economic news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Shim Shang-bok

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