Complaints soar after massive shutdowns
7 out of 10 discount stores close nationwide
By Kim Tae-jong
Lee Jung-mi, a 33-year-old office worker, gave up on the Sunday afternoon routine idea to go grocery shopping with her husband and 19-month-old boy as the dual-income couple learned that large discount chain stores in their neighborhood were closed due to the government’s new regulations.
She complained that the forced closure of big discount chains every two weeks only means customers face inconvenience without helping boost business for smaller stores and traditional markets as the law originally intended.
“It’s very inconvenient to take my baby to a nearby traditional market where you can’t easily find parking. I don’t think many people would choose to go to a traditional market, as the new rules won’t change their old lifestyle,” she said.
Like Lee’s family, many double-income couples and shoppers have criticized the regulation, citing inconvenience, and the situation worsened Sunday, as over 70 percent of all big supermarkets and discount chains were closed.
Under the new law, local governments can force large retailers to close every second and fourth Sunday, and since late April, the largest number of stores closed their door Sunday, as more local governments have joined the move.
According to industry sources, the nation’s three major discount chains ― E-Mart, Home plus and Lotte Mart ― closed 267 out of 368 stores nationwide while four major operators of super supermarkets closed 776 stores out of 1,084.
In response, many customers submitted complaints to the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission (ACRC) to criticize the government’s new rules and ask for their abolition.
“What’s the use of the regulations? It only brings so much inconvenience to customers,” one citizen wrote on the ACRC website. “People would probably go to a grocery store inside a department store where things are much more expensive than discount stores or simply buy things at discount stores in advance.”
Other people also criticized the government measure, arguing it is a populist strategy to win votes ahead of the presidential election.
Big discount chains have also long opposed the policy especially as they have suffered from falling sales over the past few months.
According to the retail industry, sales of the three largest discount store chains fell by up to 6 percent in May. In June, their revenue is widely expected to plunge by a double-digit rate.
E-Mart, the country’s largest discount store chain, posted a 4-percent drop in sales in May, compared to a year earlier, while those of Home plus and Lotte Mart declined 6 percent and 2 percent, respectively.
To make matters worse for large retailers, the main opposition Democratic United Party has initiated a move to force discount stores to operate until just 9 p.m. and close as many as four times a month, which would cause more inconvenience to customers. Currently, stores normally open until midnight.