Some online shopping for the North Korean elite

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Some online shopping for the North Korean elite

A new state-run online shopping mall is gaining popularity in North Korea, according to its propaganda outlets.

Pyongyang’s state media flaunted news that the online mall offers a range of products from pharmaceuticals to foodstuffs, even though few North Koreans are allowed computers or access to the Internet.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) introduced the Internet shopping site called Okryu, launched by Pyongyang’s General People’s Service Bureau on Wednesday, and said people can buy products and food from popular shops and even restaurants.

The online mall can link shoppers with North Korean companies and manufacturers.

The KCNA said that the e-commerce site can connect customers directly with the producers, offering “good quality products for inexpensive prices.”

Shoppers can search for the item they want on their computers or smartphones and with several clicks, items can be purchased with electronic cards, the KNCA reported.

In August 2013, North Korea’s smartphone Arirang was publicized through a visit to the mobile phone factory by leader Kim Jong-un.

North Korea has been promoting some financial reforms and encouraging its people to both save more and spend money on credit cards.

The KCNA said the Internet shopping site is “aimed at promoting convenience for the people” and giving producers incentives as well. Items can be delivered straight to customers’ homes.

It added that as the Internet shopping mall is gaining popularity, producers in the poor country have been competing to lower their prices.

The site is only accessible to North Korean citizens.

“While it is questionable how accessible it is to regular people, North Korea can easily manage an online shopping mall with its technology,” said North Korean economy expert Hong Soon-jik, a senior researcher with Hyundai Research Institute.

“Within North Korea, there has been a trend of an increase in credit card usage, mostly among young people who have studied abroad.”

Transactions on North Korean credit cards are processed via the Central Bank of North Korea.

This, however, is not Pyongyang’s very first Internet shopping mall.

In 2006, Rakwon Department Store, where the elite of Pyongyang shop, launched the Kwangmyong website.

Kim Heung-kwang, executive director of North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity and a former professor at the Pyongyang Computer Technology University, said, “In 2006 Rakwon Department Store did open the shopping mall Kwangmyong, but it was similar to a shopping inventory .?.?. Okryu is evidence that North Korea’s IT and finance system has been upgraded.

“North Korea can no longer block the market economy completely and is responding in its own way,” he said.

BY CHUN SU-JIN, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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