Services, merchandise get more tailor-made

By Ko Dong-hwan

Convenience stores in Korea are increasingly living up to their name.

Discarding their traditional image of selling only junk food and 247 ATM services, nationwide convenience stores have recently begun to introduce more services. Parcel pickup and return services were considered novel when they were introduced several years ago but are now considered essential for urban dwellers. Today, the stores are working to retain and attract new customers, who are turning to purchasing online, with creative, unique and user-friendly services.

Helping customers

Convenience stores are now marketing services to those who are too busy to manage their online data and physical belongings while they are away from home.

Convenience store chain CU is introducing a “cloud multi-device,” a machine with which people can download data from their online storage accounts, such as Naver NDrive and Daum Cloud, and copy, print, fax or scan data CU has been testing the machine since March and plans to introduce it in select stores in May.

“We are trying to give people greater access to copiers, which have been limited to university areas only,” said Yoo Cheol-hyun from the public relations department of BGF Retail, which operates the chain.

Last December, CU’s Itaewon Freedom branch in Itaewon, Yongsan-gu district introduced an automated storage service that enables people to store their belongings. BGF Retail tested the service to see how well it meets customers’ needs and found a high demand from Chinese tourists, who travel with a lot of luggage, plus those who visit nightclubs in the district. Three hours of storage costs between 2,000 and 4,000 won depending on the volumes of the belongings being stored.

“People often use the storage on Friday evenings and through the weekends,” a store clerk said.

CU and Japan-based convenience store chain, Ministop, are offering a battery-exchange service. Those whose smartphones have run out of power can visit the stores and exchange their depleted batteries for fully charged ones for a small fee of 3,000 won. The service is available for any smartphone model and replaces the old service in which people had to leave their phones at the stores or wait for 30 to 40 minutes until their phones are fully recharged.

Convenience store chain GS25 is catering to those who are too busy to shop for appliances at local electronic stores or through home shopping with its “omni-channel service.” The service enables people to purchase electronics and appliances, such as smartphones, televisions, water purifiers and bidets, at select GS25 stores with a leaflet that lists the items for sale. A purchase order is made using a selected item’s barcode which is scanned at the store counter After the order is put through, consumers can decide where to pick up the products.

“The service’s other forte is its fixed-price system,” said Song Wan-seop from the public relation department of GS Retail, which operates the chain. “Prices at local electronics stores or at home shopping tend to vary, so people are often unsure of whether the prices are fair”

Assisting app-savvy customers

Convenience stores are also introducing apps that make shopping even more convenient for smartphone users.

7-Eleven’s Sogong branch in the Jung-gu district offers a “pickup locker” service that allows people to pick up products that they purchased from Lotte. com or Lotte Department Store apps. The service has been gaining popularity and is about to be rolled out nationwide.

Likewise, GS25 has been running its “beacon service,” which directs customers within 50 meters from the nearest store, smartphones pop-up messages that include free gifticons (a mobile coupon service) or details about other ongoing product and event promotions. The service debuted in SK Planet’s mobile wallet app Syrup in November last year and began working with another mobile wallet app, YAP, in January this year The service is available in some 2,000 GS25 stores in Seoul.

In March 2011, GS25 also introduced the “My Own Refrigerator” app, which enables consumers to store a virtual snack or beverage “gifts” that they received from the chain’s “buy one, get one (or two) free” promotions in a virtual storage area for later use.

“We found that some consumers were happy to receive the online gifts but felt reluctant to spend them right away,” Song said. “So, we created the app so that people can store the gifts and later enjoy them or re-gift them With this app, people can basically treat all GS25 stores as their own refrigerator”

Moon Joo-hui from GS Retail’s marketing department said My Own Refrigerator is an innovative app that has been downloaded by some 11 million customers and praised for its efficiency.

GS25 also plans to launch another app, called “My Own TV,” which enables users to watch content that is created by GSTV, a video platform installed in every GS25 store. The app also enables people to share video greetings with friends and family members during celebratory occasions.

Offering more discounts

Convenience store food has become another game changer for major chains. Food from these stores used to be more expensive than those from major supermarkets, like E-mart or Homeplus. But this tendency is changing, as the stores are introducing a variety of discount promotions for their food products, as well as private brand (PB) products that are cheaper and bigger than their national brand (NB) counterparts.

CU is holding CU Day on weekends, during which its stores offer discounts on certain food items in a category. For example, customers can purchase ramen bowls or wine bottles at cheaper prices than usual on CU Ramen Day or CU Wine Day.

7-Eleven recruited singer Hyeri from the all-female band Girl’s Day as a model for its instant food PB Hyeri Dosirak. Launched in December of last year, the brand has sold over 510,000 units in three weeks.

Similarly, GS25 employed veteran actress Kim Hye-ja, who is popular for her motherly roles in her long TV and movie career, as a model for its own PB, Kim Hye-ja Dosirak. The brand was introduced in October 2010, and its sales have been growing each year It has sold over 13 million units by the end of 2014.

GS25’s other food PB, “Hong Ramen,” employed popular LGBT actor Hong Seok-cheon as a model. The brand has sold over 49 million units between October last year, when it was introduced, and March this year

“Sales of our PB products surpass those of popular NB products, like Fire Noodle bowl and Shin Ramen bowl,” Song said, adding that Hong Ramen sells 800,000 units a month on average, whereas NBs sell only 300,000 to 400,000 units.

SOURCE: The Korea Times