[MARKET SERIES: Yongsan Electronics Market]High-tech goods in low-tech setting

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[MARKET SERIES: Yongsan Electronics Market]High-tech goods in low-tech setting

Welcome to electronics heaven.

Yongsan Electronics Market offers the latest, the greatest and the coolest gadgets any techie, audiophile or video game junkie could ask for. Its gates are open to all from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, except for the first and third Sundays of the month.

Reputed to be the largest electronics market in Asia, and definitely the largest in Korea, the Yongsan market is divided into 24 large shopping centers with more than 5,000 shops. The giant centers, such as Electronics Land, Najin and Sonin, sell anything that takes batteries or plugs in, from washing machines to computers, mobile phones and lighting fixtures. The market has almost 80,000 square meters of store space, and can be a dizzying shopping experience.

If you find a retailer you like, but do not see the product on the sales floor, ask. When a storefront does not have a product, the sales staff will often call another retailer who does.

While the market's products are state-of-the-art, its atmosphere is not. The market began in an area once famous for agricultural and fisheries products. High-tech buildings? Futuristic stores? No. Many of the buildings are old and run-down.

But that doesn't deter customers. Prices at the comprehensive and concentrated market are 10 to 15 percent cheaper than at department stores. On top of that, the market has a summer sale slated for June, with additional 5 to 30 percent discounts.

The future of the market looks bright. It has been targeted to change from a one-stop shopping area to a one-stop entertainment place. Electronics Land will open a seven- or eight-screen movie theater in December. The organizers are banking that the entertainment facilities will reel in more customers. Get ready for the future.


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He may not have a corner on the market, but he has the best corner in the market


Ahn Deok-mo is sitting on prime real estate.

The area may only be 158 square meters of space at Yongsan Electronics Land, but the pedestrian traffic is good, and that's important to the stores here. Mr. Ahn 57, got this space by being the first person to sign a lease when Yongsan Electronics Land opened in 1988.

He started selling electronics in the late 70s, before the advent of the Internet or the MP3 player, before most Koreans had clothes dryers or air conditioners. A friend asked for help with his electronics store, so Mr. Ahn pitched in. He sold stoves, black-and-white televisions, irons and small refrigerators.

In the late '80s, he opened his own store at Electronics Land. His niche was selling consumer electronics to Koreans working in Saudi Arabia. He lobbied the government to allow Koreans to buy domestically-made electronics tax-free to take to Saudi Arabia. This way, Koreans bought local products for use abroad, such as televisions and washing machines, and some bought more to sell in Arabia. At that time, 130,000 Koreans worked there for construction and oil companies.

Now he sells digital televisions, the latest washing machines and air conditioners. Here he talks about his experiences at the electronics market.



When you began selling electronics, what were the popular products?

In the '80s, people looked for 16-inch or 18-inch televisions for their living room. Now people want 29-inch televisions. The television has grown 10 inches in 10 years.



How has the electronics market grown?

We don't believe in old-style promotions, with sales staff yelling, "Come in!" Courteous service and good prices will lead to repeat customers. Electronics stores used to be run by college dropouts. That's changed.



When did you have the most fun?

Before the market collapsed in 1997. Selling then was fun. Now the market is changing, and it's not as fun anymore.



What are the biggest changes?

The Internet and home shopping channels are changing the way people shop. At first, they took customers away from brick-and-mortar stores. But as time went by, customers would find that Web sites advertised a product but were out of stock, or heard that service after purchase was poor.

I believe that if the price at brick-and-mortar stores is the same as on the Internet or home shopping channels, people prefer to walk in a store and buy something they can actually see and touch.

Yes, the Internet is the way of the future, but online and offline channels need to work together.


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GADGETS GALORE


"Made in Korea" may not have the same ring as "Made in Japan" or "Made in Switzerland," but this batch of products from Korean companies shows that Korean manufacturers are blazing a path of their own. Get ready to move over, Sony, Panasonic and Philips.


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MP3 PLAYER


What is the future of the music industry? When Napster went down, Morpheus went up. When Morpheus went down, Kazaa went up. For a while there, Korea's own Sori Bada faced legal entanglements. While these companies duke it out with the music industry, MP3 players, portable devices used to listen to digital music, continue to infiltrate the portable music industry.

The latest offering from Yepp, a division of Samsung, is the YP-90HB, which came out in April. But the most popular product is an older one, the YP-700, which came out in March, and cost around 240,000 won. The YP-700 has either 64 or 128 megabytes of memory. At 67 grams, it's light enough to wear around your neck.


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DIGITAL CAMERA


Some professional photographers use digital cameras that cost thousands of dollars. After all, they want quality pictures with the highest resolution.

But for most normal folks, a digital camera is about fun. All those options of a high-tech camera can actually be daunting and confusing when all you want to do is take a quick photo, upload it on your home computer and e-mail it to your friends.

Kocom has a line of small PC-cameras. With each addition to their product line, they have been upgrading their cameras. The latest is the KDC-315, which will hit the market soon and cost 198,000 won. It has a zoom lens and a flash. You can hook it up to your computer for movie mode. It is 1.3 megapixels and is the size of a cigarette case.


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PDA


Smaller than a computer, smaller than a notebook, the personal digital assistant is the portable secretary of choice for busy gadget-lovers.

At the forefront of the race to invent the best personal digital assistant is JTEL. From its beginnings in 1997, JTEL has grown to champion the domestic PDA market.

The latest from JTEL is the Cellvic XG, which merges a cellular phone with a personal digital assistant. It also comes equipped with a CDMA 2000 1x module. In layman's terms, that means you have wireless access to the Internet and can make phone calls. It has 2 megabytes of flash memory and 8 megabytes of RAM, weighs 159 grams and costs around 400,000 won. A new product is slated for release before the winter holidays.


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DIGITAL TELEVISION


Store owners are reporting a surge in interest in digital flatscreen televisions. "It's definitely due to the World Cup," said one electronics store manager. Digital televisions are more expensive than their analog peers, but the picture quality is better. The most popular screen size is wide -- 60 inches from LG. Expect to pay 6.7 million won ($5,400) for one of these. Before the PDP 60-inch from LG, Japan's NEC 50-inch screen dominated the market.

The same store owners have been enjoying home entertainment sales along with the digital television sales. After all, to enjoy the full effects of a digital television, you need a complete home entertainment system with a DVD player and quality speakers for surround sound. Who knew the World Cup could do this much for television?


by Joe Yong-hee

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