MERS continues to redirect retail sales online

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MERS continues to redirect retail sales online

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As confirmed cases of MERS continue to rise, consumers are looking to online malls to stock up on items like masks, hand soaps and sanitizers, preferring the safety of home shopping to venturing out to the stores, data from major online retailers showed.

At Gmarket, a local subsidiary of eBay, sales of masks spiked nearly 200 times during the week of June 1 to 7. Sales of liquid hand soaps jumped 2,624 percent, while sales of first aid kits including hydrogen peroxide rose 510 percent as local consumers tried creating their own instant hand sanitizers amid limited inventories at stores and online retailers.

Sales of ginseng-derived supplements were also strong with a 558 percent increase on the back of rising demand for ginseng drinks for children, according to Gmarket. Vitamin sales also rose 122 percent.

“Sales of masks and hand soaps jumped sharply from June, when people were starting to realize the MERS situation could drag on for longer than anticipated,” said Hong Sang-hoon, a manager in charge of processed foods at Gmarket.

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“Protective gear and sanitization items were selling out. Ginseng sales have been rising steadily since the news of the MERS outbreak, while orders for vitamins increased from June,” Hong added.

Auction and 11Street likewise saw growth in products that are related to MERS.

Auction said sales of masks increased 5,756 percent during the June 1 to 10 period, and hand sanitizers 3,689 percent. Sales of ginseng and vitamins rose 100 percent and 152 percent respectively. At 11Street, mask sales rose 119 percent during May 20 to June 9, while sales of hand sanitizers rose 88 percent. Sales of ginseng and vitamins rose 34 percent and 28 percent each.

“In addition to masks and hand sanitizers, health supplement sales have risen as consumers are looking to boost their health and immune systems,” said Auction official.

“We are also hearing more requests for kits for making home-made hand sanitizers.”

Meanwhile local department stores are seeing a slowdown in sales in their brick-and-mortar establishments, while their online store sales are rising by double-digits.

Lotte Department Store, a chain operated by Lotte Shopping, the country’s biggest retail conglomerate, saw a 5.3 percent year-on-year fall in sales in the June 1 to 10 period as local consumers opted to stay home. In addition, the number of tourists visiting Korea is on the decline because of fear of MERS.

According to the Korea Tourism Organization, the number of tourists from China and nearby regions cancelling visits to Korea hit 9,130 as of June 9. Chinese tourists are big customers of local department stores.

Sales at Hyundai Department Store fell 5.2 percent and Shinsegae saw a 9.3 percent drop in sales during the same period.

But sales on online stores rose substantially.

Sales at Lotte.com, Lotte i Mall and Ellotte rose 45 percent compared with a year before. Sales of health supplements from those sites rose over 81 percent.

Online sales at Hyundai Department Store’s Hmall.com also rose 43.2 percent during June 1 to 10 compared with a year before.

Department stores are planning a string of events at their online stores to generate more sales.

Lotte said it was going to hold a “Cyber Monday” event on June 15 to offer a wide array of health foods at discounts of as much as 50 percent. It will also sell summer vacation items including swimsuits and summer dresses at discounts of as much as 70 percent.

Shinsegae said it was going to hold a sales event on its online mall SSG.com, offering various fashion items for as much as 80 percent off, with perks like discount coupons and credit card-based discount programs.


BY PARK JUNG-YOUN [park.jungyoun@joongang.co.kr]

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