Sunday, December 6, 2009

Rant: Shopping In Seoul

It snowed Saturday morning for an hour or so, starting about 10:45, in Gangseo-gu. It was still snowing over in Yongsan-gu when I made my way there to the electronics shopping mall next to Yongsan station on line 1.

While it's true they had the best price on what I wanted, it's not the massive, amazing, not-to-be-missed shopping festival everyone says it is. Sindorim Technomart is closer, and only a buck more expensive.

I was looking for a small, lightweight, 2 GB MP3 player that clips on rather than hangs round the neck. And I found what I wanted for W 35,000.

I'm just not that impressed. Here's why:

Sure, there are about five bazillion stalls in the "mart". Cameras, computers, keyboards, MP3s, MP4s, DMBs, printers, ink cartridges, new DVDs, classic DVDs, extension cords, on and on.

But here's the thing: practically every Canon camera stall has exactly the same selection of cameras at virtually the same price. Almost all the stalls with MP3 players have the same models of MP3 players, or nearly the same, at almost the same prices! Any HP tower you want will cost the same at EVERY store that stocks HP towers!

I won't deny that I found what I want, and got a good price. Further, I bet it is the lowest price they can provide. But with all the wandering around through the maze of small concessionaires, there might as well be just one store occupying the six stories and fifty-three bajillion square feet of space, for all the shopper value they provide.

This same principle permeates the shopping experience, with the exception of a few big mega-marts. There are probably 1000 STCO (a men's store, Shirt-Tie Coordination) outlets across Seoul, each about the size of a postage stamp. Each one, basically depending on what they've sold out of, has exactly the same selection and sizes, limited by their available shelf space.

At COEX Mall, I noticed the last time I was there a FACE Shop store (cosmetics) just around the corner from another FACE Shop. In the Blue Nine building, there are two SK telephone stores, both very small, practically identical to each other, necessarily limited by their size. Wouldn't it make more sense to consolidate into one larger shop and show off more wares? Well, wouldn't it?

LG has taken the hint. The "new" LG Superstore that opened in my neighborhood has a huge selection of phones (and everything else) though of course, Mr Hwang took me to the postage stamp sized little store down the block when we went to buy my phone last year...

Anyway, my new MP3 player is just what I wanted: it's so small, slim and lightweight, it practically doesn't exist. But it's loud and it's clear, it's simple to operate and I can clip it onto my clothes rather than wear it like a necklace.


SuperDrew said...

In Yongsan, different buildings are geared toward different things, so you will see tons of shops all with the same stuff right next to each other. To make matters worse, they are 'unionized', so all charge the same price. Of course the shops nearest the exits might try to charge a little more than the shops in the interior, but it is mostly the same. The other thing they do is make up prices to rip you off.

What I always do is look up prices at (maybe too lazy to look) and know what the price should be when I get there.

SuperDrew said...

Also, those shops that you see right next to each other are privately run. A guy will basically see a dude with a phone shop, decide that he wants to do the same thing and open the same shop right next to it. They are all called SK or Show or whatever stores because SK or Show will pay for the big sign out front if it has their name on it. The name of the shops will be different, but are generally written really small in the corner. Why? I don't know.

Chris in South Korea said...

I've always wondered how they all stay in business. You know they can't - especially in a place like Yongsan where everyone has basically the same deals / prices / location. The only reasons to choose one over the other are promises made / kept, proximity, and your knowledge of what's going on. Other than that, it's commodity shopping.

There is some history behind lumping many stores of the same kind together - even as competitors, the market would grow because the area was well known for X, Y, or Z. Thus you have the furniture street, the wedding hall street, and so on. That same mentality hasn't changed much in today's business climate...

Rod said...

Chris is correct. We are trying to open a Pizza restaurant, and the corporate office has told us that we could basically go in the parking lot of a Pizza hut and they wouldn't care. It's the proximity to the target demographic that matters more than competition.