November 14, 2014 13:04
Lotte World Mall, Korea's biggest shopping center which opened on Oct. 14, appears to have succeeded in attracting customers, dispelling worries about traffic congestion and early safety concerns.
The mall was set to open earlier, but the date was pushed back three times as city authorities and nearby residents voiced concerns over traffic jams and the risk of debris falling from the 123-story Lotte World Tower being built next door.
But no accidents have happened so far and visitors keep flooding in.
Sensors at the mall's 73 entrances have registered 3.7 million visitors over the last month -- an average of 85,000 on weekdays and 144,000 at weekends.
By comparison the main Lotte Department Store in downtown Seoul, which also houses a hotel, duty free shop and cinema, draws an average of 100,000 visitors on weekdays and 120,000 on weekends.
A Lotte spokesman said eight out of 10 visitors spent money, either shopping or eating in the restaurants.
The duty free shop at the mall is quickly becoming a shopping mecca for tourists. Some 77 percent of the tourists who visit it shop are Chinese.
The Avenuel luxury store is also attracting more wealthy Korean customers than Avenuel at the main store downtown. Lotte said the top five percent of the big spenders at the new Avenuel spent around 38 percent more than at the main Avenuel store downtown.
Restaurants at the new mall are also packed with customers, with long waiting lines on weekends. The cinema there has the largest screen in the world and draws visitors from all over the country.
Industry watchers give credit to Lotte chairman Shin Dong-bin for the success. Shin accepted most of the demands from the Seoul city government to satisfy safety and other concerns, while refraining from rushing to open the mall.
The city government slapped Lotte with a W500 billion (US$1=W1,097) bill to ensure smooth traffic flow around the mall while putting the store through repeated safety inspections. Lotte cooperated fully and Shin paid frequent visits to the construction site, telling staff to place top priority on safety rather than speed.
Lotte World Mall opened its doors to customers in stages over a three-day period to minimize congestion. It chose Tuesday to Thursday rather than a Friday or the weekend to avoid a massive crush. Parking spaces have to be reserved in advance, and cost W1,000 for every 10 minutes. The mall does not hand out free parking tickets or discount vouchers.
The strategy seems to be working. According to city officials, the number of people using the nearby Jamsil subway station has increased around 42 percent since the mall opened, while bus passengers increased 17 percent. This means more people are opting to get to Lotte World Mall by public transport.
The mall has also created jobs, employing around 6,000 staff, about the same as the total employees of Hyundai Motor.
Critics say that it will take more time to see if Lotte World Mall truly deserves accolades. The traffic issue is inconclusive since many customers apparently park their cars in other nearby shopping centers or public parking lots and walk to the mall.
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