Tue, May 06, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Sogo expects SARS report to hurt sales

BUSINESS FALL-OFF The Taipei department store sees further difficult times ahead after a cashier fell ill and 175 other employees were ordered into home quarantine

By Annabel Lue  /  STAFF REPORTER

Pacific Sogo Department Store (太平洋崇光百貨) expects to see business slump further after a Sogo cashier was reported to have severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and 175 other store employees were put into home quarantine yesterday.

"Without any doubt our sales, already hard hit by SARS, will slide further," Sogo vice president Lee Kuang-rong (李光榮) said yesterday.

On Sunday the Taipei City Government's Bureau of Health notified Sogo that one of the retailer's cashiers was suspected of having the virus. Newspaper and television reports were plastered with stories of the Sogo case yesterday.

According to Lee, the cashier returned to Taipei from a trip to Chiayi on April 28 and came down with a fever on April 30.

In an effort to prevent the spread of SARS, Sogo asked 175 staff who had potential contact with the cashier at first and fifth floor checkout counters to quarantine themselves at home.

The employees account for 10 percent of Sogo's workforce.

The store also began requiring customers to undergo temperature checks yesterday before entering its premises.

Retailers said the incident couldn't have come at a worse time.

"Ever since the SARS outbreak, our sales have seen a nearly 30 percent drop [over the same period last year]," Lee said.

The situation may push sales down by as much as 50 percent when shoppers shun Sogo because of the incident, he added.

On hearing the news yesterday one consumer said she would cross Sogo off her shopping list.

"I won't go shopping at Sogo in the near future," said Chen Pao-yu (鄭寶瑜), 52, a mother of three who, on average, shops in Sogo three times a month.

"There are lots of other department stores I can go to anyway," she said.

Another consumer said she prefers to avoid public places altogether now.

"I prefer not to go to any shopping centers or movie theaters," said Maggie Sung (宋雅芳), 31, a security company employee.

The Sogo report is expected to impact the sector as a whole.

Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Department Store (新光三越) said yesterday sales dropped 20 percent over the weekend and will slow more on the news.

Traffic is even slower after the Sogo incident.

"We noticed a significant drop in the number of shoppers this morning," Shin Kong assistant manager Shauna Lee (李香萩) told the Taipei Times yesterday. "Traffic is down by nearly one-third."

Starting today the retailer will also require temperature checks at the door.

Prevention measures are raising retailers' operational costs.

Core Pacific City Mall (京華城) started taking customer temperatures last Wednesday.

"The total spending on purchasing thermometers, masks and gloves is several million NT dollars per month," Core Pacific spokesperson Alison Kao (高治華) said.

With Mother's Day sales scheduled for this week -- and in an effort to keep customers -- Sogo is offering free home-delivery services.

Consumers can enjoy the same discount prices and freebies via phone orders.

Last year Sogo reported NT$520 million in Mother's Day sales.

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