[Weekender] Something special to celebrate a pandemic Seollal

By Jie Ye-eun

Lunar New Year gifts go online, premium under social distancing system

  • Published : Feb 6, 2021 - 16:02
  • Updated : Feb 7, 2021 - 19:59

Dishes are prepared by InterContinental chefs in Seoul for Korean memorial ceremonies to pay homage to one’s ancestors. (Grand InterContinental Seoul Parnas)
The fear of the pandemic has forced many to cancel plans for visiting families and friends during the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday this year, but instead, has made Seollal gifts more special.

Many gift sets are still practical ones, with popular and affordable choices being daily items such as canned tuna or Spam, cosmetics products and health supplements.

But local retailers have rolled out a list of eye-catching items for customers wanting to lift up the holiday spirit and deliver their blessings to families they cannot meet under the strengthened social distancing rules.

Special but pricey choices include mobile cabins merchandized by local convenience store chain CU as Seollal gifts.

Despite its price tag set between 9.35 million won ($8,360) and 15.95 million won, a duplex log cabin was sold to a 56-year-old customer last month, according to BGF Retail, which operates the CU chain.

“Amid growing demand for a separated place where family members can spend time freely together in the COVID-19 era, from older generations to young people, they started dreaming of living or enjoying time in rural areas,” the officials said in a statement.

A mobile home sauna introduced by E-mart is demonstrated. (E-mart)
Portable home saunas have also emerged as a unique but satisfying choice as many long to spend time at public dry saunas or jjimjilbang. Hardcore leisure items such as camping cars and mountain-climbing equipment have also been suggested by retailers as holiday gifts for those dreaming of enjoying safe outdoor activities in Spring.

Followed by the eased “Kim Young-ran Act,” which permanently raised the price ceiling of gifting agricultural and livestock products worth up to 200,000 won to public officials, many retailers also launched premium gift sets for those who look for more expensive gifts this year. 

Bottles of Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1990 (left) and Chateau Cheval Blanc 1996 are displayed at Lotte Department Store as Seollal gifts. (Lotte Department Store)
Department stores and hypermarkets prepared more number of gift sets worth over 100,000 won by more than 20 percent on-year, industry data showed. One department store increased the number of 1 million won or more worth of gift sets by 30 percent on-year, while another place has launched top-grade products such as 1.7 million won-worth of packaged Korean beef and a bottle of wine priced at 39 million won.

Targeting single-person households who will be staying at home during the holiday season, retailers and local restaurant operators, launched packaged ready-to-eat meals, so that they can taste holiday food without having to cook for themselves. Ready-to-eat products and packaged of precooked foods for ancestors’ memorial rites table are also gift options provided by luxurious hotels.

Mask straps made of 14-karat gold are also grabbing attention as they become essential in time of the pandemic and also in consideration of gold as investment means. 

Gifts are wrapped in the traditional Korean style. (123rf)
Experts say people are opting to exchange pricier Seollal gifts as they find less opportunities to spend big, such as on overseas travels, but have experienced an increase in their assets from market volatility. They also choose expensive items as a way of compensation or to deliver their apologies for not being able to visit their families, experts said.

“For those who saw a surge in asset value via stocks and real estate tend to consume more amount of money on the gifts. But since there has been limited places where they can spend money on such as a low opportunity to travel abroad, they become obsessed with buying premium gifts for others. It’s because people tend to give out products that they want to receive,” said Lee Eun-hee, professor of consumer science at Inha University. 

Contactless gift-giving

Another noticeable feature of Seollal gifts this year is that almost every product has become available online.

The pandemic has wiped away conventional beliefs that holiday gifts should be handpicked after a long hour of searching to express one’s sincerity.

In the era of pandemic, the process of gift-giving has become as simple as possible and convenient.

“Picking the best products in reasonable prices took some time, but placing the orders by clicking some buttons was a snap,” said Park Jina, a 35-year-old office worker in Seoul, who ordered Korean beef and red ginseng for her families in Ulsan and Daegu, instead of visiting them this holiday.

“As some online platforms even provide same-day delivery services, it has become so handy, especially in times of COVID-19,” Park said. 

Online shopping has become common for Seollal gift-giving. (123rf)
According to the latest survey of 1,043 customers by e-commerce platform TMon, around 33 percent of them chose to buy products through the platform and use delivery services for gift-giving, while 32 percent of those polled said they would exchange cash. The figures were up by 8 percentage points each from data collected ahead of the last year’s Chuseok.

Between family members, exchanging cash as gifts has become common. Adults give money to their parents to show their gratitude and they also give pocket money to children in Seollal. Amid the contactless boom, a rising number of people are choosing to send cash via online banking during the holiday season. In place of giving pocket money, some people prefer to give out stocks or fund products targeted only children.

Kim Si-wuel, professor of consumer information science at Konkuk University, said that the “untact” gift-giving trend emerged as technology developed but the preference of giving financial assets is a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Human values get changed along with technology shift and changes in business trends. As people have faced the unprecedented pandemic this year, their desire for preparing possible danger in the future has become necessary,” the expert said. “With such lessons learned, people are eyeing unique gift items such as stocks and vacation homes as well.”

By Jie Ye-eun (