Most department stores are suffering sluggish revenues amid the economic slump, but sales to foreign tourists are steadily increasing. According to Lotte Department Store, some 10 percent of total purchases were made by foreign tourists at its main branch.
The most popular goods among foreign shoppers are clothes. But while clothing sales accounted for 60 percent of the store's overall revenues, they are now the main reason for their poor performance.
Lotte saw a 1.2 percent drop in sales of women's clothing and a 0.6 percent decline in menswear in August compared to the same month last year. At Hyundai Department Store, sales of men's and women's clothing dropped by 6 percent.
Shinsegae Department Store recorded a 17 percent fall in sales of women’s wear, and total sales slipped 0.9 percent although it posted a 41 percent jump in sales of perishable foodstuffs.
Industry insiders say foreign tourists are giving clothing sales a much-needed boost. At the main branch of Shinsegae, half the foreigners' favorite brands were clothing brands.
Clothing is especially popular among Chinese customers. "O'2nd and Obzee opened a branch at major department stores or upscale shopping malls in China, so Chinese people are familiar with those brands," a Shinsegae spokesman said. "Chinese shoppers like that they can buy brand clothes at half the price they are in China, and that new products are released here sooner."
The spokesman said Korean premium men's clothing brands like Solid Homme appeal to Chinese customers because they cut clothes to fit Asian physiques, unlike European luxury brands.
Department stores are trying hard to attract more foreign customers with various services and offers.
Hyundai's Apgujeong main branch has held several events for foreign tourists to experience Korean traditional culture, such as learning traditional etiquette and how to wear hanbok or traditional Korean dress.
The luxury shops of Galleria Department Store, which saw a 60 percent rise in sales to foreigners until June, started accepting payment in five foreign currencies last month.