The main branch of Lotte Department Store, the country's retail sales leader for the last three decades, relinquished its position to the commercial complex at Incheon International Airport this year. The duty free shops, restaurants and other facilities at the airport recorded combined sales of W1.16 trillion (US$1=W1,128) between January and September this year, pushing the Lotte main branch including adjuncts Young Plaza and Avenuel into second place with W1.07 trillion.
Established in 1979, the Lotte main branch racked up the country's highest sales the following year and held on to the top spot for 30 years. The surprise is that it was overtaken not by rivals Hyundai or Shinsegae department stores but an airport.
Last year, the commercial complex of the airport posted sales of W1.33 trillion, W136.3 billion behind Lotte, which posted W1.47 trillion. Although Lotte's sales have been growing, the commercial facilities at Incheon grew faster at 15 percent a year.
Incheon Airport says the dramatic increase in sales at duty free shops is related to the improvement of overall services in the airport. A drastic cut in immigration control cues enables passengers to spend more time shopping. The average waiting time for immigration control at Incheon International Airport is 16 minutes for departure and 13 minutes for admission, which is just one-third of the international average of 60 minutes for departure and 45 minutes for admission.
Perhaps that is why the average money spent by one passenger in Incheon's duty free shops is W85,000, or W96,000 including other commercial facilities, which places it at the top among airports in the world. For total sales it ranks third after Dubai and London's Heathrow.
A Lotte spokesman said, "Although we do pay attention to competitors in the department store industry such as the Gangnam branch of Shinsegae, we watch the airport less as the makeup of customers as well as target goods are totally different. "We don't think direct comparison makes much sense."
Department stores focus more on frequent, loyal customers for fashion, accessories, and luxury goods, whereas Incheon Airport concentrates on travelers with cosmetics, leather goods and liquor.
Of course the competition for this year is not over yet. Although Incheon had the lead as of September, the final result will be determined in the fourth quarter. The main branch of Lotte Department Store predicts that it will be able to comfortably achieve W1.5 trillion of sales by the end of the year.