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Korea’s Hyundai Department Store offers new shopping experience

Hyundai Department Store

As the era of coronavirus pandemic stretches on further, shopping at a touch of the fingertips from home has certainly become the new norm.

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Yet in bid to compete in a retail industry that is losing all boundaries, Hyundai Department Store is offering a whole new look of what the mega-sized retail outlet of the future should be, opening a new department store in the office district of Yeouido in Seoul on 26th February.

The Hyundai Seoul kicks off as the biggest department store in Seoul, with 89,100 square meters of operating space, or about the size of 13 football fields.

On pre-opening day on 25th February, the shopping outlet was crowded with curious visitors trying to get a glimpse of the newest department store and the first opening in the capital in a decade, since Lotte Department Store Gimpo Airport branch in 2011.

Upon entering from the first floor of The Hyundai Seoul, a wide and open space welcomed the guests, like a multicomplex shopping mall. A couple of kiosk robots glided around to greet customers.

According to Hyundai, the department store intends to provide customers with room to enjoy shopping in a more relaxed manner. Passageways have been widened to up to 8 meters, allowing some eight strollers to fit through. Typical passages in department stores are just 2 to 3 meters.

What also grabbed attention from the entrance was how glass was used for the roof that covers the entire building. While windows and clocks were said to be taboos in such shopping outlets — to make people forget about time and keep shopping — The Hyundai Seoul sought to allow people to do their shopping under natural sunlight.

On one side on the first floor is its Waterfall Garden, with a huge indoor waterfall in the centre that falls from 12 meters up.

Promoting the value of nature and the idea of “retail therapy,” The Hyundai Seoul said it has allotted much of the area for resting and as recreational spaces for customers. In the big department store, Hyundai said it used about 49 percent of the space to create rest areas, instead of allocating it to stores for sales.

One of the highlights of The Hyundai Seoul is the Sounds Forest, a 3,300-square-meter park on the fifth floor. The indoor garden has real grass and flowers, with some 30 real trees alongside the benches.

“It is pretty nice, I really like the layout, and the ceiling is very high. There is a lot of greens, and I think it is a bit more spacious than other places,” Allan Rodrigues, a graduate student from Brazil, told The Korea Herald.

“Most people hang around in Hongdae or Gangnam. So it is very good to have a new place in Yeouido, which is a different area to explore and meet your friends,” continued Rodrigues.

“I like how they used a lot of trees and plants around the store for decorations. I like how it is so big, it is good when you have children. I would want to come back here when there are less people,” Cho Young-sil, a mother who visited with her young son, told The Korea Herald.

In the department store, about 11,240 square meters has been allotted for garden spaces.

“If we had used it to introduce more shops (in the space), we would be seeing about 170 to 200 billion won (US$178 million) more in sales. But that is not the direction we pursue. We want to change the shopping experiences of customers,” a Hyundai official said.

On the sixth floor, the view down over the Sounds Forest and the whole store was unlike any other, as the indoor park filled with green stretches out without any visual impediment.

“As you can notice, you can enjoy the great openness of the space from the top floor here. This is made possible with how the building was constructed, with the red cranes outside of the building holding up the roof,” a Hyundai official explained, adding that is why no pillars are needed.

In the underground level is the food street, “Tasty Seoul,” where Seoul’s trendiest and hottest restaurants and cafes are gathered. California-based egg sandwich chain Eggslut and popular coffee outlet Blue Bottle have both staked their claims there.

Three of the hottest barbecue restaurant franchises — Mongtan, Gold Pig Restaurant and Tteurak — have joined forces to launch a newly branded store, Sooty, to introduce their most popular meats in The Hyundai Seoul as well.

According to Hyundai, The Hyundai Seoul is opening with the most food outlets of any department store in Korea, at about 90.

Overall, the newest department store is a departure from typical shopping outlets tightly filled with goods to maximize profit.

The Hyundai Seoul also showed its intention to break away from the conventional department store, as is also seen in the name. The branch in Yeouido breaks the time-honored tradition in Korea of being identified by the simple formula of brand plus “department store” plus its location.

As a department store, The Hyundai Seoul is ambitiously introducing some of the trendiest brands anywhere.

Nordic fashion and lifestyle brand Arket launched its very first store in Asia at the department store.

Bungaejangter, which is the country’s first secondhand transactions app launched in 2010, also introduced its first physical store, and people lined up to get a look into some of the selected luxury goods displayed in the store.

Designer brands have also entered, such as Gucci, Prada and Burberry, as well as some more exclusive stores. As for three other major designer brands — Hermes, Louis Vuitton and Chanel — the retailer said it is currently in negotiations.

Aside from the stores and the garden spaces, the department store also has prepared rooms for exhibitions and a cultural center offering various classes.

The exhibition space, dubbed Alt 1, boasts ample space where about 200 works or art can be displayed, according to Hyundai.

A retrospective exhibition, “Andy Warhol: Beginning Seoul,” opens to run until 27th June.

Alongside the luxury designer brands stores and some 30 cosmetics brands on the first floor, there is also a special exhibition room dubbed Spring Forest, decorated in pink. Families and children could be seen playing with the bubbles, carrying dry ice made from treelike machines.

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Hyundai said it has set the annual sales goal at US$564 billion for The Hyundai Seoul in its first year. Meanwhile, IBK Securities & Investment forecasts The Hyundai Seoul will reach its breakeven point in 2023.