November 27, 2018 13:25
North Korea has apparently embraced online shopping, with some 30 online stores enlisting the participation of some 2,500 companies. The development comes as local moneylenders who got rich in open-air markets when the socialist planned economy collapsed have moved their money into cyberspace.
The regime seems to be smiling on the growth of online shopping so far in hopes of attracting foreign investment once international sanctions are lifted.
One Chinese trader who has been to Pyongyang recently said, "It's now common in Pyongyang for people to place orders for goods and pay with their mobile phones."
Online shopping first made a tentative appearance in North Korea in 2015, when the state-run site Okryu opened and offered a range of products including food and medicines via smartphones.
And Manmulsang, which started services the same year, deals in hundreds of goods now, from electrical and electronic appliances to clothing and food. As many as 300 companies are reportedly registered on the site. In 2017, online shopping mall Unpasan opened its doors.
The North does not use the worldwide web but has its own Internet or rather intranet. "Online shopping is increasing in the North as the number of mobile phones in use has jumped to 6 million," said Cho Bong-hyun of the IBK Economic Research Institute here. "This coincides with leader Kim Jong-un's emphasis on information technology and a trend of localizing production since he took power."
With growing online commerce, delivery businesses are booming too. "South Korean-style delivery services are appearing thanks to the popularity of South Korean pop culture," a source said. "Food delivery is one of them, and fried chicken delivery services are spreading in Pyongyang."
Delivery driver has become a popular job in Pyongyang and other cities. Private schools that teach computer skills or driving have also sprouted in the North since the inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang in September.
"A rumor has been circulating since the summit that South Korea will send a large quantity of cars and computers to the North," a source said.
Driving courses have been extended from three months to six and the curriculum includes even foreign cars. But few ordinary North Koreans outside Pyongyang can enjoy the benefits.
"People have to deposit a large amount of money in the bank to use online shopping malls, and most of them still can't afford the high prices of goods sold online," a researcher with a government-funded think tank here said. "This is still a phenomenon limited to Pyongyang and some other bigger cities where the privileged class including senior party and military officials and money masters live."
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