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MERS fears drive Koreans online

South Koreans are increasingly turning to online channels for grocery shopping as they eschew their usual visits to grocers amid the continued spread of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), industry data shows.

South Korea has reported 150 MERS infections since the first case was confirmed on May 20, the biggest outbreak outside of Saudi Arabia where the respiratory illness was first reported in 2012. As of Monday morning (June 15) 16 people have died from the disease.

Data by the country’s three biggest grocers — E-mart, Home Plus and Lotte Mart – shows health concerns are driving Koreans online, with eCommerce orders and order amounts growing in the double digits as MERS infections and MERS-related deaths rise.

Market leader E-mart saw its online sales soar 63.1 per cent between June 1 and June 11, compared with the same period a year earlier. The number of orders also jumped 51.9 per cent.

By product category, ready-to-cook home food sales shot up 90.1 per cent followed by a 83 per cent rise in fresh food and 69.9 per cent increase in processed food.

Tesco’s Home Plus reported a 48.1 per cent increase in online sales and a 37.5 per cent rise in terms of order value. Lotte Mart saw its online sales grow 26.8 per cent compared with a 10 per cent sales slump at its brick-and-mortar branches.

The unprecedented spread of the potentially deadly virus has emerged as a bugbear for Asia’s fourth-largest economy that is already grappling with limping exports.

Last week, the central bank slashed the policy rate to a new low of 1.5 per cent as part of “pre-emptive” efforts to prevent MERS from adversely affecting sentiment and consumption.

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