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Retailers cash in on Christmas shopping amid pandemic

From Christmas cakes, tech gadgets to health supplements, businesses rush to seize on year-end gift season

Shoppers enjoy free gift-wrapping services at Shinsegae Department Store on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
Shoppers enjoy free gift-wrapping services at Shinsegae Department Store on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
Retailers are in a final push for last-minute Christmas shopping in a year marred by the coronavirus pandemic.

As the country grapples with a third wave of virus outbreaks, gatherings of five or more people are banned until early January in Seoul and surrounding areas. Despite the dampened mood, retail companies are trying to make the most of the situation, encouraging gift-giving as a way to celebrate the season safe from the virus.

Shinsegae Department Store said Tuesday it would offer free gift-wrapping services at all locations until Christmas Day for those spending over 100,000 won ($90) with an affiliated credit card.

Hyundai Department Store has been giving away “Christmas home party kits” to shoppers at its 15 locations across the country who spend over 200,000 won, in an effort to boost sales.

Department stores are allowed to stay open until the social distancing rule is raised to Level 3, but growing cases of the virus are casting uncertainty and driving shopping online.

Against this backdrop, Lotte Hi-Mart, an electronics and home appliances store, is offering special deals on its website for popular items such as the Nintendo Switch and Apple’s AirPods Pro, as well as giving away anniversary discount coupons.

“After Suneung (the national college entrance exam) took place recently, the number of customers who are buying digital appliances such as laptops and gaming consoles is on the rise. We saw a tenfold jump in sales volume yesterday compared to normal times,” one official at the retailer said Tuesday.

Shinsegae Food, a unit of the country‘s retail giant Shinsegae, has been offering special goods for select cakes at its premium bakery brand Vecchia & Nuovo since Monday.

The brand’s cake sales in the first half of this month enjoyed a whopping 381 percent increase, the company said.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic prolongs and more consumers avoid human contact, interest in online bakery brands is growing. Mobile gift cards for cakes are increasingly becoming a hit as a year-end gift as well,” said one official at the company.

Though a recent survey by job recruiting portal Incruit revealed that personal protective equipment such as face masks and hand sanitizer are the “least-favored” Christmas gifts, more nuanced pandemic-conscious gifts are gaining popularity, according to Coupang.

The e-commerce giant has seen a rise in popularity for its online gift service and said nutritional supplements and fresh foods such as red ginseng and vitamins are among the most popular items.

“The gifts are to help loved ones strengthen their immune system and stay healthy during this pandemic where we are meant to reduce human contact,” one official at the company explained.

Home decor items and toys for children are also a popular choice according to the company as people are urged to stay home this winter season and children do not get to go outside.

Coupang said its 24-hour Rocket Delivery service and its wide selection of items boasting 840,000 products are driving customers to the platform.

The online retailer is also set to launch a service allowing people to gift furniture and home appliances that require installation by letting recipients choose the day of delivery.

By Yim Hyun-su (