Leave your wallet behind on Busan’s smart beach

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Leave your wallet behind on Busan’s smart beach


Tens of thousands of beachgoers enjoy swimming in the sea off Haeundae Beach in Busan yesterday, with and without their wallets. [NEWSIS]

When you have a summertime beach vacation, renting umbrellas and enjoying seaside food requires you to carry along a lot of cash. But who likes to bring a wallet or a pocketbook onto the sand?

Busan’s Haeundae Beach has gone technological to solve this age-old summer nuisance. Its new system is called, somewhat predictably, “Smart Beach” and it exploits QR (Quick-Response) Code technology.

On the Smart Beach, scantily clad swimmers dipped in sunblock can buy things electronically, either by using a waterproof wristband or, for those who can’t be separated from their smartphones even at the risk of losing them in the ocean, by loading a QR code on their devices.

QR codes are like new generation barcodes. Although smaller than the old barcode, a QR code can store more information: descriptions of the product or service, Internet URLs, images and even videos. A user scans the code with a smartphone or tablet computer to access the information. According to a study by Korea Information Research, the codes are most widely used by Korean advertisers, who use the small amount of space to provide information about their products and services.

“The Smart Beach service is just one of many methods in which the QR code technology has been employed,” said Seo Jong-jun, the head of Smart Beach at Haeundae. “To use our service, customers pay online to download a QR code to their smartphones or tablet computers. All of the vendors and store owners at the beach are equipped with computers to scan the QR codes. When customers bring their codes to a vendor, he scans the code on the spot and the amount of that purchase is deducted from the value of that code,” he explained. Customers continue using the downloaded code until the amount of money they paid is used up.

Alternatively, they can buy a wristband at the beach already loaded with a code and use it the same way.

“Using my smartphone, I downloaded a QR Code for 30,000 won [$28] and used it to rent a parasol for my friend, use the showers and the changing rooms,” said a teenage vacationer from Seoul. “I have my cash safely tucked away inside my bag.”

The Smart Beach service started on July 10 and it is the first on any beach in the world.

“We initiated the service because many vacationers were having trouble managing cash on the beach and not receiving their receipts after making purchases on the beach,” Seo said. “Our service speaks to both concerns by doing away with the need for carrying around cash.” It also prevents vendors from dodging taxes because the transactions are electronic rather than cash payments.

Seo claimed that in August, more than 5,000 vacationers made use of the service daily. Purchases made through the Smart Beach service accounted for 60 percent of the total sales on the beach.

“It’s reassuring to know that you will not lose your money while playing around in the water,” said Cho Young-ja, a middle-aged vacationer.

The service only attracted 936 users during its first week of operation. Seo explained that many people just didn’t get it at first.

“Some of our visitors prefer using cash to relying on our service,” he said. “QR codes are still an obscure technological innovation for many people, which is something we must work on.”

Seo’s team is working on a ways to improve the service. “Mainly, we are thinking of better advertisements for the service so more people will be aware of how convenient the Smart Beach really is,” he said.

Haeundae Beach officials estimate that by the end of August, there will be more than 10,000 Smart beach users each day.

“Despite initial worries that the service would fail, we have been optimistic,” Seo said. “If Smart Beach becomes successful, we plan to extend it to other beaches in the country.”

By Cho Yongmin Contributing writer [enational@joongang.co.kr]
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