They are packed because we think they are empty

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They are packed because we think they are empty

So many shoppers are flocking to outlets and suburban malls to keep their social distance that these venues are starting to get crowded.

When you have to stay away from others, these are the places to go.

Sales at the retail locations on the outskirts are still lower than they were the same time last year, but the shopping paradises are outperforming their city center counterparts.

A 40-year-old office worker was surprised when he visited an outlet mall in Paju, Gyeonggi, with his wife and 3-year-old daughter on Saturday. He expected to be the only shopper because of the coronavirus pandemic, but the reality is completely different.

“I guess everyone else thought the same,” Oh said, “that outdoor outlet malls have less risks of infection compared to indoor shopping centers.”

The parking tower was so full that he could barely manage to park on the top floor of the parking tower. He headed to buy some sportswear but had to give up because of the long line just to try on the clothes.

Vice Health and Welfare Minister Kim Gang-lip said in a press briefing Monday that social distancing has weakened over the past two weeks despite the government’s appeal to strengthen the practice.

The Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters announced the average movement of people on a typical Saturday before the coronavirus outbreak was between 17.98 million and 18.02 million. As coronavirus fears emerged, the number fell as low as 10.15 million in early March, but as the situation prolonged, the movement increased to 13.25 million by the end of March and 13.53 million by the beginning of April.

In the first week of March, sales at Hyundai outlet malls increased by 35 percent compared to the previous week. Since then, sales have steadily increased by 14 to 19 percent every week until the fourth week of March.

Lotte outlet malls announced that an increasing number of customers are visiting its three suburban outlets located in Gyeonggi: Icheon, Paju and Giheung. The sales at Lotte’s suburban outlet malls fell as much as 50 percent on year in the first weekend of March, but the drop gradually moved to a 12 percent drop last week on Friday and Saturday.

The discount outlet malls are focusing on the customers by holding large discount events.

Shinsegae Premium Outlet in Paju, Gyeonggi, is currently hosting a special event to celebrate its 9th anniversary until Sunday. The event offers up to 80 percent discounts on 200 domestic and foreign brands.

The Nike Factory Store in the Lotte outlet mall is also holding an event, offering up to 70 percent discounts on sales items until April 19. Lotte’s suburban outlet malls at Giheung, Paju and Icheon have also organized an event called MD’s Pick, which offers up to 80 percent discounts on popular domestic and foreign brand fashion items.

The department store industry, which was directly hit by the coronavirus, is experiencing modest increases in sales.

Hyundai Department Store sales were on a steady decline in February, but the decline stopped in March. Sales rose 16.1 percent in the first week of March compared the previous week and rose 23.3 percent in the last week of March compared to the previous week.

Shinsegae Department Store sales dropped by 34.7 percent in the fourth week of February from the previous week but soon recovered with a 32.9 percent increase in the first week of March.

Lotte Department Store recently analyzed sales by the number of parked cars for the last 10 weeks. It had recorded a sharp decline in early February, but the numbers have been on the rise since March.

Department store sales are still down on year.

Sales at Lotte Department Store are down 22 percent in February compared to February last year, and sales in March dropped 34.1 percent compared to the same period in 2019.

Department stores started regular spring sales last Thursday.

Lotte Department Store is offering discounts of up to 90 percent at its Golf and Wellness Fair at its main branch in central Seoul and its Jamsil branch in southern Seoul.

BY CHU IN-YOUNG, KIM YEON-AH [kim.yeonah@joongang.co.kr]

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