Coronavirus Spurs Online Business, Isolation

  • By Ryu Jung, Kang Dong-cheol

    March 04, 2020 13:27

    The coronavirus epidemic is changing consumption patterns here with the emphasis on minimizing human contact and offering an alarming glimpse into a future of increasing personal isolation.

    Major trade shows and new product launches have been canceled, and consumers are buying groceries, daily necessities, clothes and even cars on the Internet. Exercise, education and even cultural activities are being done online.

    Companies are naturally having to change their marketing strategies. Global automakers were planning to unveil their latest models at the Geneva Motor Show that was to open on Thursday but was canceled just three days before opening day.

    Instead, live online streams of the events were devised to minimize the damage to the industry.

    Volkswagen on Tuesday unveiled on its website the new high-performance Golf GTI and the Touareg R hybrid. Porsche unveiled its new 911 Turbo sports car in a live stream, and Hyundai its new EV concept car called "Prophecy." Mercedes Benz, BMW and Audi plan to follow suit.

    More consumers are resorting to online purchases of cars even if they cost tens to hundreds of millions of won (US$1=W1,194). Online car vendor Getcha said the number of customers interested in buying cars through the site doubled last month to 50,000.

    Seoul's shopping district of Myeong-dong is deserted on Saturday. /Yonhap

    Instead of gym classes, people are watching exercise videos and hopping or crunching along at home, and they watch movies at home. Dano, which offers mobile workout coaching, said 1,200 new users signed up in February alone, raising the total number of users to 11,000.

    Streaming content service provider Wavve said movie purchases during Feb. 18-25, when the number of new coronavirus infections surged in Korea, increased seven percent from the previous week. Meanwhile, movie theaters sit virtually empty. Data from the Korean Film Council shows only 7.35 million people visited movie theaters in February, a third the level seen a year ago.

    Online education is also booming. Yonsei, Korea, Sungkyunkwan, Kyunghee and other major universities as well as large private crammers are shifting to online classes. Some parents even have private tutoring conducted online. A university student who is giving private lessons twice a week to a secondary schooler is using Skype for her lessons at the parents' request.

    The latest epidemic has only accelerated the digitalization of people's lives. Yee Jae-yeol, a sociologist at Seoul National University said, "The outbreak will spur heated discussions of no-contact systems in a wide range of areas in society, from work to consumption, education and medical services."

    But areas such as manufacturing and research, which cannot be replaced by online alternatives, could grind to a halt, while the economy could take a huge hit due to curtailed travel and spending.

    Other side effects of a spreading no-contact culture are social isolation and depression. Koo Jeong-woo at Sungkyunkwan University said, "Senior citizens and the poor will feel particularly disadvantaged. We may see a weakening of social cohesion or sense of community."

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