Prepping homemakers take us to brink of 'delivery chaos'
“I never thought I would not be able to buy necessities, but since I don’t know what is going to happen anymore, I ordered 30 packs of Hetbahn rice, water and ready-made food,” said Kim Chang-min, a resident of Garak-dong, Songpa District, in southern Seoul.
Amid soaring coronavirus case numbers in Korea, consumers have been on edge due to the possibility that the social distancing level could be raised, and they would not have access to local major markets and department stores. The retail industry is concerned about chaotic delivery and items running out of stock due to a spike in online orders.
The sales at major supermarkets and online shopping malls have been rising since Dec. 11, when the daily case numbers jumped from the 600s to 900s. The increase seems to have motivated people to stock up on daily necessities as they might lose some degree of access to local markets with stricter measures in place.
Level 3 social distancing measures mean stricter congregation restrictions, with work-from-home requirements in place for both public institutions and private businesses. Major vendors larger than 300 square meters (3,229 square feet) in size, such as department stores, may have to close during Level 3. There is a possibility that big supermarkets may close.
“In online communities for mothers, the main topic of interest is storing ready-made food, canned food and sauces.” said Kim Yu-mi, a 43-year-old with children in first and second grade.
In the Dec. 11 to 15 period, Market Kurly’s sales rose by 29 percent on week and 43 percent on month. Shinsegae Group’s online shopping platform SSG.com experienced a 20 percent on week increase in sales and 30 percent on month gain.
The sales jump is mostly attributed to even greater demand for food. Lotte Mart’s sales are up 13 percent on week. By product, 31.3 percent of the increase was instant noodles, 12.7 percent microwaveable Korean food and 12.4 percent soup and rice items. Some of the items driving the sales increase at Emart included rice, crackers, fruit, meat and vegetables.
With panic buying on the rise, delivery capacity is fast reaching limits. As of Dec. 15, 99 percent of SSG.com’s delivery capacity was being utilized, and the operating rate, which refers to the amount of output compared to the full capacity of the business, was 97 percent for early-morning delivery services. Another local company that provides morning delivery services has reached its maximum distribution capacity of 100,000 orders per day. Due to the spike in demand, online shopping malls have stopped taking orders an hour earlier or are increasing the number of workers.
“Because the morning hours are busy, I have time to look at mobile applications for grocery shopping around two or three in the afternoon or after I get off from work. But these days, everything is out of stock by then,” said Jo Jung-ah, a frequent user of Coupang for vegetables, fruits and seafood. “I pay monthly fees for certain services, but since I can’t use them, I’ve sent Coupang a feedback letter.”
“Fruits like mangos and shine muscats, which are popular with children, easily run out of stock, and the unit prices of popular food items are also on the rise as more people seem to be buying them,” said a 40-year-old working mom. “I need to be looking at the grocery shopping app as often as I would for stock prices in order to be able to buy what I want.”
“The increase in sales is for sure apparent in numbers,” said a spokesperson for a major online shopping mall. “Starting this week, we have been holding emergency meetings every day to increase the inventory of daily necessities and ensure that there are no hiccups during delivery.”
“We are taking special care for distribution and inventory, so the possibility for the ‘delivery chaos’ during this summer to happen again is quite low.”
Disease prevention authorities have been considering Level 3 social distancing measures. According to retailers, there is a good chance that major supermarkets will be able to stay open as essential facilities even if the country goes into Level 3.
“Marts are facilities directly related to the ordinary people’s daily lives, and offline stores act as the distribution centers for online shopping, so there will be serious damage if the operations stop,” said a spokesperson for a large supermarket.
BY LEE SO-AH, BAE JUNG-WON [firstname.lastname@example.org]