In the midst of global economic turbulence—due to the currency devaluation in Japan, export trade depression in China, and the Greece debt crisis among other things—the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) has struck a hard blow to an already sluggish Korean economy. The disease, which first appeared in the country in May, has infected 185 people, mostly elders, and left 36 dead to date, with more in quarantine.
(Pictured Left: South Koreans Wearing Precautionary Masks IMAGE: Unknown)
Despite what Hollywood outbreak thrillers would have us believe, my country is not on the brink of pandemonium. Since the virus spreads by close contact with other people, Koreans have kept to their homes for the most part. A clean and sanitary surrounding is a top priority. In fact, one can readily see hand sanitizers in public places like restaurants, shopping malls, and even buses. Schools and workplaces in infected areas have also been temporarily closed. I even know some people who are unwilling to visit clinics and hospitals to avoid risking infection.
The lack of consumer activity is, understandably, taking a toll on our economy. While businesses are actively looking for ways to stump the downturn by offering special deals and running promotions, the Korean Government has placed restrictions on public events in an effort to limit the spread of the virus. Recently, IKEA’s 50% discount promotion was postponed for this reason.
(Pictured Right: Workers spray antiseptic solution at an art hall in Seoul IMAGE: LEE JIN-MAN/AP)
Impact on Market Research Industry
In the research industry, we are also experiencing the effects since we depend heavily on businesses looking to evaluate their marketing campaigns. With people opting to stay at home rather than go out to eat or shop, restaurant and retail sales are suffering. A study targeting moviegoers, for example, cannot push through since the number of moviegoers has decreased by half. A survey looking to interview tourists in Korea can be put on hold since 2,500 Chinese tourists have canceled their flight in fear of an outbreak. Face-to-Face interviews, Focus Group Discussions—all of these research tools have been paused.
Economists predict that the market will continue its sluggishness until the end of the year. Nevertheless, all is not so grim in my country. As an online panel provider, Research Panel Asia’s Korean respondents are able to answer quantitative surveys in the comfort of their homes and even participate in qualitative studies through online communities or facial coding systems. Other businesses can also take advantage of opportunities online in order to overcome these challenges.
In conclusion, MERS has brought much sadness in Korea. However, as there are always two sides to a coin, there is also a good and a bad impact following an incident. I believe in that silver lining, and I fervently hope that the economy improves sooner rather than later.