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Department stores mark highest sales jump in 25 years

Department stores enjoy sales recovery in February, while smaller stores lag behind

Shoppers wearing masks look around a department store in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap)
Shoppers wearing masks look around a department store in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap)
Sales at department stores increased 34 percent year-on-year in February in the biggest jump in 25 years since 1996, the latest data from Statistics Korea showed Monday.

The retail sales index, which is designed to reflect consumption trends, appears to have recovered to near pre-pandemic levels during February, as it stood at 115.2 after adjustments for seasonal factors. The figure stood at 116.2 in December 2019. The first case of coronavirus was detected in Korea the following month.

February of 2021 was packed with events that helped boost department store sales, including the Lunar New Year holiday and the opening of the Hyundai Seoul, the biggest department store in the capital.

Warm weather coupled with the rise of “revenge shopping,” a phenomenon in which consumers spend money to compensate for the loss of pleasure caused by the pandemic, seem to have restored consumer confidence.

While retail sales of semi-durable goods such as clothes, shoes and bags rose 9.9 percent, durable goods like computers, home appliances and cars rose 19.9 percent last month compared to one year ago. Nondurable goods like food and drinks also increased 2.8 percent in retail sales, though books, stationery and cosmetics took a hit.

Overall retail sales were up 8.4 percent over the same period, reflecting the growing consumer confidence in certain parts of the retail sector in recent months. Compared to January, however, it logged a 0.8 percent drop.

As social distancing rules were loosened and demand for dining out grew, sales of food and drink products fell, Statistics Korea said as it explained the month-on-month drop.

Compared to pre-pandemic times, the retail sales index for cars and home appliances was even higher in February than December 2019, though the figure for semi-durable goods remained lower.

The numbers reflect the change in lifestyle due to the pandemic as people spent more time at home and went out less.

Supermarkets and duty-free shops also saw sales grow by 12.9 and 4.3 percent, respectively, compared to the same time last year.

Convenience stores and corner stores including smaller grocery stores suffered 1.9 and 1.4 percent drops in sales, respectively, however.

By Yim Hyun-su (hyunsu@heraldcorp.com)
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