Thanks to the influx of Chinese tourists and their shopping sprees, Korea’s retail industry took a huge leap forward during the Lunar New Year’s holiday, from Feb. 18 to 22 this year, industry sources said.
Around 130,000 Chinese tourists, often referred to as “youke,” reportedly visited Korea during the holiday period, according to immigration officials.
Lotte, Shinsegae and Hyundai department stores, the country’s three major high-end retailers, said they saw double-digit growth in sale revenue generated by Chinese nationals between Feb. 13 and 21.
Lotte’s Sogong-dong flagship branch in central Seoul saw a 74.9 percent sales jump compared to 2014, based on the Union Pay credit card usage record. The number of Chinese customers visiting the store rose by 50 percent during the same period.
“Eight out of every 10 customers are Chinese and are not afraid to buy the products,” a sales clerk at Style Nanda, a contemporary fashion brand in the store, said.
Lotte had its sale staff wear Chinese traditional costumes and made announcements in Chinese. The department store also runs a concierge service catering to Chinese language speakers.
Hyundai and Shinsegae department stores saw 54.3 percent and 27.7 percent sales rises, respectively.
Chinese customers mostly shopped for fashion items, beauty products and food goods. Hyundai’s luxury fashion sector, armed with global fashion giants Cartier, Hermes, Chanel and others, reported a 72.4 percent sales increase while high-end cosmetics brands including Sulwhasoo and Hera of AmorePacific saw their products sell like hotcakes.
Discount supermarkets also saw remarkable growth.
Lotte Mart in Seoul Station, central Seoul, one of the most foreigner-frequented supermarkets in Seoul, saw a 45.2 percent rise in the number of youke customers and a 31 percent sales increase among them. The most popular items were foods ― snack-maker Orion’s Market O Brownies were the most sold items, followed by roasted seaweed, sanitary pads and hair products.
Industry observers say the influence of youke is expected to grow here. According to KDB Daewoo Securities, the average youke spends 2.3 million won ($2,100) during a trip to Korea, far more than their average spending in the U.S. (1.4 million won) or Southeast Asia (1.1 million won).
“Many of them are young females, (who are) very trend-sensitive and love shopping,” Choi Hong-mae, a KDB analyst, stated in her report.
The government aims to attract 7.2 million Chinese tourist this year, the lion’s share of 15.5 million foreigners expected to visit during the same period. “How can we revitalize the domestic retail market with youke bringing a breath of fresh air? That will be the key to the economic policies in the future,” professor Seo Yong-goo at Sookmyung Women’s University was quoted as saying to a local daily.
By Bae Ji-sook (firstname.lastname@example.org)