East meets West: herbal medicine mall

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East meets West: herbal medicine mall

The ingredients for herbal remedies have long been available at outdoor marketplaces, down obscure alleyways or in pharmacy cubbyholes across Korea.
Now add department stores to the list of herbal shopping options.
Hansol Donguibogam, the country’s first shopping mall for traditional medicine ingredients, opened last month in a former Midopa department store in Jegi-dong, eastern Seoul ― just a stone’s throw from the traditional Yakryeong market for herbal remedy ingredients.
You could say it’s Eastern medicine sold in a Western-style setting.
On the second and third floors, ginseng, herbal medicines, traditional pharmaceuticals and other natural health-care products can be found.
On the sixth floor, alongside the herbal clinics are offices for Western specialties such as pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology. The whole setup is being touted as quite convenient, so much so that within three hours, you can have your pulse checked while an herbal doctor prepares your tonic. Next-day delivery is also possible, a system that mimics what’s done at Yakryeong.
One big difference between the two lies in Hansol’s marketing and sales techniques. For example, the mall was launched with a special sale and giveaways, and held promotional events such as arm wrestling for housewives. They’ve also launched a store brand of steamed red ginseng.
“We will have a sale every year in mid-August, just like the department stores,” a Hansol official said.
Mall operators insist the stores maintain tight controls on the quality of herbal medicine. If a store sells Chinese-grown ginseng ― or any other kind that is not approved by the National Agricultural Products Quality Management Service ― it will be shut down.
And by relying on Korean ginseng wholesalers, Hansol says, it is able to provide the same products as other sellers at up to a 30 percent discount.
Mall officials remain confident in the market potential. “Because we are using the department-store business style in a Westernized building, we will be able to attract younger customers along with the mainstream buyers of herbal medicines, who are older than middle age,” said Kim Sun-tae, a Hansol executive.
Despite the mall’s marketing finesse and modernity, merchants at the more down-home Yakryeong market aren’t bothered by the new competition. One merchant said, “We usually do our business with steady customers such as buyers from provincial areas and herbal clinics, so there’s no need for us to move to a place with better shopping opportunities.”

by Lee Chul-jae
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