A year has passed since the coronavirus pandemic hit Korea on Jan. 20, 2020 and the unprecedented reaction across the world has changed all aspects of people’s lives.

Pollster Tillion Pro surveyed the spending patterns of 5,111 people between 20 to 60 to analyze the way Koreans eat, dress and shelter amid the “new normal.”

One thing is for sure, they are getting tired of the restrictions. Asked how they buy food, 56.7 percent of respondents said they go to offline venues like supermarkets, while only 26.3 percent keep using online delivery. Even among young people, who are thought to be more comfortable with online shopping, 49.3 percent favor going to the stores and only 26.4 percent to shop online.







One 43-year-old working mother with two children said she bought 80 percent of her groceries and other daily necessities online in the early phase of the pandemic. But a year later, she buys 80 percent of those products offline. “I realized that the quality products I bought online varied too much,” Chung said.

Others go to superstores not just to buy necessities. “I like to move around, but gyms are closed and it’s not easy to go outside due to the freezing weather,” said a 45-year-old office worker. “Superstores are the only places I can go to get some air.” 

Another 45-year-old office worker said, “You might be able to find a wide variety of products online, but there are products you need to go to offline stores to buy. When that need arises, I put on a mask and make a quick trip to the supermarket.”

Some 42.5 percent of respondents said their living expenses decreased over the past year, while 33.5 percent said it increased. What was especially noteworthy was that older people tightened their purse strings more than younger ones.

Among respondents in their 60s, 48.3 percent said their spending declined, compared to 44.9 percent of respondents in their 50s, 40.6 percent in their 40s, 40.4 percent in their 30s and 38.2 percent in their 20s.

So why did young people save less? One 29-year-old who lives alone in Seoul said, “In my age group there’s just very little spending you can cut down on. My expenditures declined because I stopped going to the gym, but then I spent more money ordering food. There are only so many corners I can cut.”

Prof. Kim Si-wol at Konkuk University said, “Younger people tend to live alone and their spending is concentrated on basic needs like food and rent. That means they have little room to reduce spending.”

Some 47.7 percent said that they saved most money in leisure and travel. As global air traffic ground to a standstill, most people were left stranded at home.

One 25-year-old office worker said, “Two years ago, I spent W5 million on vacations in Australia and Southeast Asia, but this year I spent pretty much nothing on overseas travel,” (US$1=W1,100).

“I also spent practically nothing on clothes since I mostly work from home wearing my sweats,” he added. He used the money saved to buy stocks for the first time, snapping up W2 million worth of Samsung Electronics and Hyundai Motor shares.

Spending on clothing and cosmetics also plummeted, 60.2 percent of respondents said. But spending on home appliances increased to make lockdown more bearable.

One in four people said they got a new computer or laptop due to telecommuting and online classes. A 50-year-old housewife bought a dozen household appliances last year, including a robot vacuum cleaner, two bidets, a massage chair, an induction oven, a dishwasher and a TV. “I started spending more time at home and ended up watching home shopping channels that fueled impulse buying,” she admits.

Will spending habits return to the old normal after the pandemic ends? Prof. Lee Jun-young at Sangmyung University said, “Declines in overseas travel and growth in sales of household appliances may be temporary phenomena, but other areas of business will see long-term effects. People got a taste of telecommuting and mobile shopping, which will end up becoming indispensable parts of our lives.” 

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