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All-out effort to revive spending as ‘living with COVID-19’ begins

Tech giants, convenience stores and credit card firms offer discounts and specials

People eat lunch at a restaurant in central Seoul on Monday, when the first phase of “living with COVID-19” began. (Yonhap)
People eat lunch at a restaurant in central Seoul on Monday, when the first phase of “living with COVID-19” began. (Yonhap)
As South Korea began “living with COVID-19” on Monday, lifting curfews on restaurants and cafes, major shopping events and discount coupon programs also kicked off in hopes of unleashing pent-up consumer demand.

This year’s annual Korea Sale Festa, supported by the central government and 17 local governments, will involve over 2,000 companies -- the largest number since the first event in 2016, according to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.

Tech giants including Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics are offering discounts of up to 40 percent on TVs, refrigerators and washing machines. Retailers such as supermarket chains E-mart and Costco, and convenience store chains CU and 7-Eleven are also offering discounts and deals, the ministry said.

Major e-commerce platforms including Gmarket and Auction will also roll out discounts.

To help businesses affected by the pandemic, the government also restarted a discount coupon program that was suspended last year following a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Anyone who places more than four orders worth at least 20,000 won ($17) each on food delivery apps can get a refund of 10,000 won, and a gym membership worth at least 80,000 won within a month brings a 30,000 won discount.

Moviegoers can enjoy 6,000 won off tickets, while travelers who book select domestic tour packages in advance will receive discounts of 40 percent.

The all-out effort to boost the economy comes amid signs of growing consumer demand across sectors as of late.

According to the Small Enterprise and Market Service on Monday, the business survey index for small businesses has been on the rise in the last three months amid growing hopes for the government’s plans to gradually open up the economy.

The figure for November stood at 87.6, up 9.5 points from last month.

The index, which indicates the level of confidence among small-business owners, plunged to 45.4 in August. At that time, venues such as restaurants and cafes were only allowed to stay open until 9 p.m. in Seoul and the surrounding areas under Level 4 social distancing rules.

International travel demand is also up, according to e-commerce platform WeMakePrice. The transaction volume for international flight tickets saw a 790 percent month-on-month increase in October, the platform said.

With nearly 9 in 10 bookings scheduled within this year, the platform said “pent-up travel demand” and the government’s “living with COVID-19” plan were behind the surge in flight ticket sales.

Against this backdrop, credit card firms are rolling out discounts to take advantage of growing travel demand. KB Kookmin Card is offering discounts of up to 7 percent for flights booked on its website.

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