Leave the retail industry alone

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Leave the retail industry alone

Korea’s version of Black Friday - a two-week stretch of sales at retailers across the country as part of a government-sponsored measure to stimulate domestic consumption - turned out to be much ado about nothing.

Customers who rushed to major department stores touting discounts of up to 80 percent on the first day of the event went home empty-handed, disappointed and angry upon discovering the maximum discount rates applied only to certain out-of-season items. The event, hosted by the Ministry of Trade, Investment, and Energy as a spin-off of the Korea Grand Sale promotion for local consumers, included over 27,000 shops with discount offers averaging 50 to 70 percent. But despite the fanfare, major consumer appliances, luxury products and cosmetic brands were hardly found. Large local fashion houses instead offered discount tickets that can be applied from November when they return to normal price tags. Among 30,000 superstore chains, just 100 took part.

Consumers lashed out against the campaign on the Internet and SNS as the so-called special sales were no different from regular seasonal ones. Retailers were equally disgruntled. They had been given just a month to report to the government their participation and the discounts they would apply to items. The government gave little thought before hastily arranging the event. October is usually the start of the new fall and winter season. Department stores hold sales in January, April, October and November. Just a small number of items unsold from the previous season go on sale in April and October.

The government, however, pushed ahead with the special sales to meet the Chinese Golden Week holiday starting Oct. 1. Unlike American department stores that buy products directly from manufacturers, their Korean counterparts only take sales commissions from outlets in their stores. As a result, they cannot be forced to discount their items. Retailers and manufacturers plan promotions a year ahead. Few would be willing to participate in a sudden event. Mass-scale sales programs could be of help when appetite for spending is down. But it should be left up to the industry to organize such events, on its own time and scale.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 2, Page 30

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