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MERS scares Korean shoppers

News, 16 June 2015

SEOUL: Consumption patterns in Korea have shifted dramatically in recent weeks as people avoid crowded places in an effort to protect themselves from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

South Korea has reported 150 MERS infections since the first case was confirmed on May 20 and 16 people have died from the disease. Consumers are now shunning restaurants and tourist locations while supermarkets have registered a surge in online shopping.

More than 54,000 tourists have also cancelled trips to the country, according to The Chosun Ilbo, adding to the negative impact on the economy.

Official figures show the number of cinema-goers during the first week of June down 55% on the previous year, while the number of museum visitors plunged 81%.

The Chosun Ilbo reported the experience of one credit card firm which saw transactions in the first week of June fall 9.2% compared to the same period in May, with amusement and water parks being especially hard hit – the declines there were 54% and 56% respectively.

"Despite the hot weather in June, transactions at water parks fell from May, indicating how much the MERS scare is making a dent," a spokesman said.

The grocery sector, meanwhile, has seen a jump in online shopping, Inside Retail Asia reported, with the country's three biggest grocers – E-mart, Home Plus and Lotte Mart – all registering double-digit growth in both the number of orders and their value.

Online sales at E-mart were up 63.1% between June 1 and June 11, compared with the same period a year earlier, while the number of orders was up 51.9%.

At Home Plus, online sales were up 48.1% and at Lotte Mart 26.8%; the latter had also seen sales fall 10% at bricks-and-mortar outlets.

Businesses have been taking steps to prevent the spread of the disease amongst staff and schools have reopened as the country seeks to return to normal. But even if the outbreak is rapidly contained, investment bank Morgan Stanley has predicted that sales in the retail and restaurant sectors are likely shrink between 10% and 15% in June while the tourism industry will see a 20% drop in sales until July.

Data sourced from The Chosun Ilbo, Inside Retail Asia; additional content by Warc staff