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South Koreans shift to online shopping amid MERS fears

/ 04:38 PM June 16, 2015
Workers wearing protective gears, spray antiseptic solution as a precaution against the spread of MERS, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, virus at the Sejong Culture Center in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, June 16, 2015. AP

Workers wearing protective gears, spray antiseptic solution as a precaution against the spread of MERS, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, virus at the Sejong Culture Center in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, June 16, 2015. AP

South Korea’s major retailers have received an upsurge in their online sales amid the outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome, industry data showed Monday.

“The number of consumers who opt for online shopping in order to avoid outside activity has increased sharply since the end of May in the aftermath of MERS,” said Lee Wan-shin, marketing director at Lotte Department Store.

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Data from the country’s supermarket chains showed that their online orders and sales surged by 50-60 percent on-year since Jun 1, when the country reported its first death from an outbreak of MERS.

Online sales of South Korea’s No. 1 discount store E-Mart have rocketed 63.1 percent from June 1-11, compared to the same period in 2014.

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According to E-Mart, its total food sales rose 77.4 percent. In detail, home meal replacement products saw the biggest boost, up 90.1 percent, while fresh food and processed food sales increased 83 percent and 69.9 percent, respectively.

Homeplus, Tesco’s Korean unit, reported a 48.1 percent increase in online sales and a 37.5 percent rise in terms of order value. Lotte Mart saw its online sales grow 26.8 percent compared with a 10 percent sales slump at its brick-and-mortar branches.

“Because of the impact of the MERS crisis, the online grocery shopping trend is spreading much faster than expected,” a Lotte Mart official said.

With the shift reverberating across the industry, supermarket chains are reinforcing their delivery services to handle the surge in volume.

“We will continuously increase manpower and equipment to meet growing demand from customers,” he said.

Lotte Mart added 150 employees for packaging and delivery service since the first week of June while adding 100 more delivery vehicles per day to its fleet.

E-Mart gave notice to its online customers about a possible delivery delay on its website, saying its cut-off time for next-day delivery might be made earlier due to the unprecedented surge in online demand.

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