Retailers crowd into Seoul’s northwestern frontLotte Mall’s newest location in Jingwan-dong, a neighborhood in the northwestern reaches of Seoul, opened its doors to customers on Dec. 1 and has already received 350,000 visitors.
Lee Ji-hye, a 33-year-old local resident, says she has already visited the mall twice - first on Sunday to buy cosmetics and then on Thursday to eat with a friend. “I used to go all the way to Myeong-dong [in central Seoul] for shopping because there were no shopping complexes nearby,” she said.
The northwestern neighborhoods of the Seoul metropolitan area have long been considered “retail deserts” because of the lack of large retailers. Lotte Mall is one of many looking to fill the void, along with rival Shinsegae Group, which plans to open its Starfield mall in Goyang, a city just northwest of Seoul, by next year’s first half. Swedish furniture giant Ikea is opening its second Korean store in Goyang during the year’s second half.
All three will be located just a 5- to 10-minute drive from each other, and each one is following the recent trend of focusing on the full visitor experience rather than just the shopping.
Lotte Mall’s location in Jingwan-dong features the largest one-floor eatery section in a Korean department store, spanning 5,100 square meters (54,900 square feet). The emphasis on food was influenced by local residents’ opinion that the neighborhood was lacking in good restaurants.
The Lotte Mall also has a sports facility and small amusement park for children that take up three stories of the complex. The strategy can be explained by Jingwan-dong’s demographics: 16.4 percent of the neighborhood’s 52,800 residents are children under the age of 12, much higher than the 10 percent they make up in all of Eunpyeong District, where the neighborhood is located.
Shinsegae Group is working on a branch of its massive Starfield mall in Goyang on special orders from the group’s vice president, Chung Yong-jin. It will feature a Shinsegae Department Store as well as sports facilities like a water park.
Ikea’s new location in Goyang will have its signature showrooms where visitors can try out products and get ideas for decorating their homes. The Ikea Restaurant & Cafe and Swedish Market will sell Scandinavian dishes and beverages.
All three retailers began buying land in the northwestern areas in 2012, with Shinsegae making the first 100,000-square-meter purchase in Goyang’s Samsong District. A year later, Lotte and Ikea followed.
The retailers’ sudden interest in Seoul’s northwestern front is the result of the area’s population growth. They’re a consequence of major housing development projects led by regional governments in Seoul’s Eunpyeong District and in Goyang. The inflow of residents started in June 2008 with the partial completion of Eunpyeong housing developments.
Before the build-out, the neighborhoods were not favored because of their proximity to the North Korean border. The residential district of Ilsan in Goyang was already absorbing people and money, having developed much earlier in the 1990s into a big residential and commercial district.
Some worry about the three retail giants getting sucked into cutthroat competition since all of them will be entering the same neighborhood in a short time span. The northwestern districts of Seoul are home to three million residents, which skeptics say is not enough for all three to survive.
“Nearby Ilsan already has a fully developed commercial district, and with more retailers coming in to boost retail supply, it may be difficult for the areas to meet the level of demand required to keep all three afloat,” said Kwon Kang-soo, a director at the Korea Establishment Realty Agent. “In order to succeed, they’ll have to attract shoppers from outside the region.”
BY CHOI HYUN-JU [firstname.lastname@example.org]