Unlike 1994, consumers don’t start panic buying

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Unlike 1994, consumers don’t start panic buying

Although the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il came as a shock to South Korean industry and political circles, average consumers stayed relatively calm and didn’t rush to bottled water, instant ramen or canned foods at three major local discount store chains.

At Lotte Mart’s Jamsil store in southern Seoul, business was pretty much as usual.

“I was shocked and surprised when I heard of the death of Kim Jong-il while waiting for a bus on Monday at noon,” said Choi Gui-sook, a 53-year-old homemaker. “But that was it. I don’t have any plans to buy ramen and canned food in bulk because I don’t think his death will lead to military conflicts between two Koreas. I remember there was no hoarding when North Korea attacked the Cheonan warship and Yeonpyeong Island.”

A cashier surnamed Park at Lotte Mart said, “Yesterday was just a normal day.”

Yesterday’s atmosphere was a far cry from 1994, when Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s founder and the father of Kim Jong-il, died, according to the homemaker.

Choi recalled many South Koreans panicking in fear that there could be a possible war. Choi herself stocked up on ramen and canned tuna.

Homeplus, the Korean unit of British retail giant Tesco, said Monday sales of instant ramen went up 9 percent from a week before.

While sales of bottled water and canned foods went up 13.5 percent and 3 percent each, sales of precooked rice and butane gas canisters slipped.

“Based on these figures, it’s hard to say customers are hoarding goods,” said Caley Lim, a PR representative at Homplus. “Retailers normally say hoarding happens only when sales of a product goes up over 30 or 40 percent. Yesterday we checked the situation of some stores in Seoul, Gyeonggi and Gangwon, and no hoarding was reported. It seems as if customers are unshaken by North Korea’s latest situation.”

Travel agencies said their business was not affected by Kim’s death, but they’re keeping a close eye on the latest developments.

Mode Tour, a travel agency that specializes in inbound trips for Chinese and Japanese tourists, admitted they do get inquiries from foreign customers about whether is it safe to travel Korea, but this hasn’t led to cancellations.

“The cancellation rate is at the normal level,” Oh Ji-hyun, a PR representative at Mode Tour said. “Although we have to watch two to three days to assess the situation, we believe Kim’s death won’t be as bad as when Yeonpyeong Island was attacked.”


By Kim Mi-ju [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]

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