Rail hub fast becoming shoppers’ hub

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Rail hub fast becoming shoppers’ hub

The former red-brick Seoul Station now bustles not with commuters scrambling to catch their trains, but with office workers taking advantage of its location to get their shopping done.
Such has been the case since the discount store Lotte Mart opened in the colonial-era building last June. Combined with the Galleria Concos department store in the new Seoul Station next door, the entire area now resembles a shopping mall in the heart of downtown.
“Preparing for dinner at home worried me since both my husband and I work, but now that I can buy side dishes here it’s a lot easier,” said Choi Su-yeon, an office worker who had come grocery shopping after finishing work nearby.
For the armies of workers who occupy nearby office towers, this newfound shopping plaza is a major convenience. “I used to shop on the weekend, but now I can use that time for leisure since I can shop here during the week after work,” said Yoon Byeong-joon on a recent weeknight.
It was these office workers who helped Lotte Mart record a profit of 14.5 billion won ($12.5 million) in its first month of operation this June, 25 percent higher than expected. And it’s not just Seoul residents who like shopping here. People pouring into the city by rail from Busan, Daejeon and elsewhere pop into the station’s stores.
“About 40 percent of customers are from outside the Seoul metro area, and 10 percent of the mileage-card members are from Busan,” says Lotte Mart manager Kim Dong Moon. “Lotte Mart is probably the only discount store nationwide whose customers are from all over the country.”
Over in the gleaming new Seoul Station, the Concos shopping zone is crowded not with shoppers carrying bags, but with travelers toting luggage. The aisles are a spacious 3 meters (10 feet) wide to accommodate the primary customer base ― those waiting for a train.
The organization of goods by floor almost resembles a class system, with the least-expensive items like casual clothes, magazines and CDs on the second floor where the general trains depart. The third and fourth floors, from which the more expensive KTX high-speed trains depart, stock more expensive goods such as golf accessories.
All transactions are done quickly, as customers have minimal time to spend waiting in line or running around trying to find something. Clothes can be fixed within 10 minutes by a tailor, while faxing, photocopying and currency exchange can be done on-the-spot at one of several customer-service centers.
Approximately 400,000 people use Seoul Station on a given day. Since many of these people are literally just passing through, questions have been raised as to whether area shops have an easier time selling inferior goods or services than they would to more loyal, regular customers.
Kim Jin-sup, head of the Concos sales planning team, denies this is the case. “Although we may not have loyal customers, all of them are still capable of hearing things through the grapevine. If rumors begin about the price or quality of our goods, then we are in trouble.”
Either way, most of the stores in the area have not been open long, and as the customers are a diverse lot, many retailers are still experimenting with what products to sell and how to sell them.
The transit-hub shopping won’t end at Seoul Station. In September, the discount store E-Mart, clothing outlets, electronics retailers and cinemas are to be built at the new Yongsan Station, about two kilometers (1.2 miles) south of Seoul Station. Shopaholics, especially those with limited time to feed their addiction, will be pleased. The new stores at Yongsan and Seoul Stations are expected to create a new shopping corridor running through the heart of the city.

by Jung Hyun-mok
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