Retail restrictions? We don’t buy itThe city government of Seoul is considering restrictions on what big-box stores and franchise superstores can sell. The city announced a list of 51 items that includes fresh vegetables, fish, tofu and eggs, as well as popular necessities like trash bags, soju and beer that it plans to “recommend” corporate retailers like E-Mart remove from their shelves. It will hold a public hearing next month to gauge opinions and adjust the list. We are awed at how it came up with such a bizarre idea.
The Seoul government exists for citizens. It is an administration to ensure a safe and comfortable environment for citizens. But it is now saying it will attempt to protect small merchants at the expense of public convenience, health and price stability.
Consumers would suffer greatly from the move. In order to prepare a meal, they can purchase carrots and squash in a superstore, but not potatoes and lettuce. Crabs and shrimp are available at large chain stores, but clams and other seafood can only be found in neighborhood markets. Seoul citizens would have to go through the hassle of figuring out what they can buy and where for every meal.
Public health could also be at risk. Many consumers prefer large chain stores for produce because they guarantee hygiene and quality. What if people fall ill after eating fish from small neighborhood markets?
Consumer prices could also be hit. Big-box stores provide food at lower prices because they purchase it in large amounts. The items that Seoul city aims to restrict are products that consumers use daily and rely on. Will the government take responsibility if its actions make life more difficult for consumers?
We are not discrediting the government’s intention to help small markets and merchants. But it is going about it the wrong way. Administrative action to restrict the business of chain superstores and big-box stores cannot help. Attention should be given to improve the competitiveness of smaller retailers. If it really wants to revive marketplaces, the city should accelerate improvements and rationalization of distribution and logistics to allow delivery of fresh food at competitive prices.
It is how large stores have become so successful today since they were first introduced in 1993. The success of the small store cooperative system in Jeju provides a good example. Community shopkeepers joined forces to establish an efficient distribution and delivery system and are competing with superstore chains. No matter how noble the intentions may be, a policy that inconveniences citizens is best thrown out.