Despite it's small stature Mokpo is home to three competing big box stores: E-Mart, Lotte Mart and (new this year) Home Plus. All three are what you expect, playing the economies of scale game and and delivering goods that might otherwise be unobtainable at the local market. And by unobtainable I mean foreign goods like Maple Syrup (available at the same, universal price of 12,000).
The usual exercise that helps foreigners understand the big box store here in Korea is to start with the image of Wal-Mart back home and think it better; the make-up of a Korean big box store is typical of the Wal-Mart model, something along the usual mix of grocery, clothing, animal (eating & pet), sporting goods, housewares, and home electronics store under one warehouse roof.
But even though Wal-Mart is painted as an evil soul-sucking, community destroying entity, the foreigners in Mokpo actually appreciate their stores and are thankful for their existence even if they too are probably putting small business out of business. We like them cause they remind us of home -- especially the grocery section. In Korea all grocery sections in the big box stores are more like the grocery stores back home and occupy an entire floor in their respective multi-level buildings.
As a side note, there actually was a Korean Wal-Mart; it started in 1998 but ended up selling all 16 stores to Shinsegae (owner of E-mart) in 2006:
Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) announced Monday that it is withdrawing from the highly competitive South Korean retail market, agreeing to sell its 16 stores to the country's top discount chain.The New York Times, in a similar article describing Wal-Mart international difficulties, gives us this little graphic depicting Wal-Mart's world:
The world's largest retailer said Shinsegae Co. would buy Wal-Mart Korea for 825 billion won ($882 million), pending approval by South Korean regulators. Wal-Mart said the decision to withdraw is part of its global strategy.
"As we continue to focus our efforts where we can have the greatest impact on our growth strategy, it became increasingly clear that in South Korea's current environment it would be difficult for us to reach the scale we desired," said Mike Duke, vice chairman of Wal-Mart Stores.
"They failed to attract customers to the stores," said S.K. Lee, a retail analyst at Hyundai Securities in Seoul, adding that housewives in particular were dissatisfied with food and beverage offerings.
But I digress. As I mentioned before, the big box stores in Korea are like Wal-Mart but better and that includes food. ZenKimchi's video tour of Home Plus illustrates what's on par with mega-store food offerings.
Now ZenKimchi focuses more on the wacky (i.e non-western) aspects of Korean grocery stores (and, trust me, come Chuseok even convenience stores will have Economy Size pre-wrapped gifts of Spam) but for the Mokponian Waygooken, which store is better?
E-mart is located in the center of town and ranks 3rd in my list. On an random sampling it appeared that E-mart offered the cheapest prices but the difference never went higher than a 1,000. Cheap prices should have placed it closer to the top but unforunatly E-mart was the cause of the Great Brown Bread Depression of 2007 in which E-mart management decided that 'whole wheat white bread' was not worth keeping in stock. This caused cartoon sadness ripples throughout the entire foreigner community. And by foreigner community, I mean me.
Lotte Mart is located in Peace Park and is more convenient for people living in Hadang and a more expensive taxi-ride for people living anywhere else. Lotte Mart ranks a solid second place. On the same random sampling that determined that E-mart has lower prices it was also made clear that Lotte Mart has more variety than E-mart. As an added bonus the location is right next to Lotte Cinema if eating in movie theaters is you thing. Unfortunately, as of this blog post, it has nothing resembling brown bread.
Home Plus has the luxury of being the last arrival to Mokpo and has taken advantage of E-Mart and Lotte Mart's shortcoming. It's closer to old Mokpo, right off of 3rd Square and awesomely enough right next to my school. It wins 1st place since, in addition to having that 'whole wheat white bread' thing it also carries tortilla shells, dairy-free ice-cream, ginger ale (along with black cherry and orange soda), and waffles. The downside is that yes, prices are more expensive but until people can show me another place that gives me something resembling Mexican food and vegan friendly organic ice-cream waffles, Home Plus shall remain the undisputed leader of Mokpo Mega-Stores.