Convenience stores a true staple

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Convenience stores a true staple

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From left: A part-time worker at CU serves freshly baked pastries; a man at GS25 uses the store’s delivery service; and customers at 7-Eleven chat over drinks and snacks. [LIM HYUN-DONG, KIM HYUN-DONG, CHO HAN-DAE]

For Ms. Kim, 22, purchasing certain items in Korea can take a little courage. And when the cashier turns out to be a man, things only get worse.

“It can be really embarrassing to buy condoms or even sanitary pads,” Kim said blushing, requesting not to be identified by her full name.

“With convenience stores, I find them literally convenient, which I think is their greatest advantage because I’m not forced to mind others while doing my own business.”

According to recent statistics compiled by the Seoul city government, convenience stores were the only establishments in the local business sector supplying life’s daily necessities and specialized services that grew last year compared to 2014.

Convenience stores in Seoul performed astoundingly well in all three categories that determine whether the field is economically healthy: total sales, average sales per store and average transaction value.

Average sales per store jumped from 377 million won ($311,400) in 2014 to 483 million won in 2015, increasing by 28 percent. That figure fell, meanwhile, in other businesses, including restaurants specializing in Korean food, Japanese food and fried chicken.

Additionally, each convenience store customer spent an average of 5,271 won last year, up about 9 percent from the 4,826 won in 2014 - an increase that surpassed that of restaurants serving Western cuisine, stationery stores and cosmetics shops.

As to why Koreans are so fond of shopping at convenience stores, Jeon Sang-in, a sociology professor at Seoul National University, said anonymity was a unique advantage.

“In a society where urbanites are constantly forced to interact with one another, the desire to be kept afar from anything personally insignificant grows larger,” Jeon said. “A convenience store incorporates that theory into reality.”

When a team of JoongAng Ilbo reporters volunteered recently to work for 24 hours at a CU in Jongno District, central Seoul, customer Park Tae-kyeong, an office worker, said his visit at 10 p.m. was already his third of the day.

It is essentially a daily ritual for the 30-year-old, who lives alone.

“You find everything here packaged in a single portion,” said Park, who was on his way home after purchasing some beer and fried snacks. Earlier in the morning, he bought a bottle of water and a pack of cigarettes and returned after lunch for gum, chocolate and a soda.

When the reporters made another visit the following day, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., a group of teenagers were seen chatting and eating boiled eggs and sausages. At one point, a college student sat down at a small table and studied her textbook for an entire hour. Other people walked in at random every now and then to use the ATMs.

“Convenience stores here serve a platform,” said Roh Myeong-wu, a sociology professor at Ajou University in Suwon, Gyeonggi. “Customers can use them for whatever purpose serves them best.”

BY PARK MIN-JE, CHO HAN-DAE AND KONG DA-HOON [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]



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