Retailers turn to foreign customers
While retailers are wary of resuming activities targeting consumers who have been grieving, they are resuming events to attract foreign tourists - mainly from China and Japan. According to the Korea Tourism Organization, up to 170,000 Chinese and Japanese visitors to Korea are expected in the first week of May. Labor Day in China is a major public holiday from May 1 to 3, while Golden Week in Japan is the country’s longest holiday period, from April 26 to May 6.
Many retailers’ marketing events are focused on Chinese tourists as they are known as big spenders and they are presumed to be less emotionally tied to the Sewol tragedy.
To attract Chinese consumers, Lotte Department Store has set up a “Hallyu [Korean Wave] pop-up store” at its main branch in Sogong-dong, central Seoul. The store, which will be open until Tuesday, sells items featuring Kim Soo-hyun, a popular actor from “My Love from the Star.” The SBS drama is a hit in China.
Hyundai Department Store is also offering special deals to Chinese shoppers. The retailer said it is providing them with translation services and has set up a lounge offering light snacks and drinks. Shinsegae Department Store said it is offering discounts up to 30 percent on women’s apparel and cosmetic brands that are popular among Chinese customers.
Fashion brands have also become more aggressive in attracting Chinese customers. Shinsegae International, an importer of foreign brands, has distributed Chinese conversation books and audio files to employees of brands like Celine and Givenchy. It also has set up an emergency call list in case store employees are not able to communicate well with Chinese shoppers.
Similarly, shoe brand Kumkang is offering a 20 percent discount to foreign customers at its Myeong-dong branch in central Seoul. The event continues until May 11. Kumkang is also giving out a Korean fan and a lucky bag to foreigners who visit the store.
While events for foreigners are back on, retailers are still cautious about targeting local consumers. Events such as a painting contest and fairy-tale story reading that were organized by retailers in the past have been canceled. However, rather than attracting local consumers with fancy marketing, retailers are offering them more discounts.
E-Mart, a large discount store under Shinsegae Group, for example, is selling 3,000 stationary items with a discount of up to 50 percent until next Tuesday, the day after Children’s Day. Its rival Lotte Mart is selling packages of health food at 50 percent cheaper for Parent’s Day gifts.
Although large retailers are trying to find ways to raise sales in the peak season, small retailers and self-employed workers are struggling.
Mr. Lim, a 59-year-old owner of a grilled pork restaurant in Gwangmyeong, Gyeonggi, is concerned about decreasing sales.
“I, too, am very sad about the Sewol ferry accident and am very cautious, but at the same time, I’m worried about my empty restaurant,” he said. “Normally in May, there are many families that come to the restaurant for a casual dinner. Business is hardly like in the past now.”
A 69-year-old taxi driver Cho Young-wook, sighed, saying he now gets fewer customers at night.
“There are hardly any customers at night,” Cho said. “Who would want to have get-togethers after work at such a time?”
BY KOO HUI-LYUNG AND LEE EUN-JOO [firstname.lastname@example.org]