N. Korean online shopping app gains popularity among the country’s young generation

FILE PHOTO: A North Korean businessman using a cell phone at a local market. (Daily NK)

A smartphone app that enables people to purchase items online from foreign currency shops has recently gained popularity in North Korea. According to a source in the country, many people use the app because even people living outside of Pyongyang can receive their orders within a week.

The source told Daily NK on Tuesday that the smartphone e-commerce app “Foreign Currency Shop Service 2.0″ allows people to “buy goods in real time, 24 hours a day, using the government’s mobile payments program.”

To soak up foreign currency circulating throughout society, North Korea operates “foreign currency shops” that — as the name suggests — accept only foreign currency for purchases. The source said the mobile foreign currency shops are no different from their brick-and-mortar analogs.

“They have everything from daily necessities to furniture,” he explained.

North Koreans have been able to order items using smartphone apps for several years now. However, somebody appears to have developed an app for foreign currency shops, too. The North Korean authorities appear interested in using the app to more effectively collect the public’s foreign currency.

The source said shops in 13 major cities have registered with the app and are using it to sell goods. In reality, shops in Pyongyang — where most foreign currency shops and department stores are located — use it almost exclusively.

Pyongyang residents represent the app’s chief users, although the source said Donju (North Korea’s wealthy entrepreneurial class) and a few cadres in large provincial cities also use the program.

“Through the app, people in any province can shop at foreign currency shops nationwide, but more Pyongyang residents than provincial residents use it,” he said. “Pyongyang residents can use shops in Hamhung, but few do because Hamhung shops have fewer products they would like than Pyongyang shops. Many provincial residents buy goods from Pyongyang shops.”

This is to say, Pyongyang’s foreign currency shops typically have better quality goods, so most North Koreans prefer Pyongyang-based shops.

Items ordered through the online foreign currency shops typically arrive within a week. The delivery of goods within that amount of time seems possible because North Korea does have something of an e-commerce and logistics system, the nation’s poor IT network and roads notwithstanding.

Daily NK’s source said people with a lot of money can use the app to browse the selection at registered foreign currency shops nationwide from wherever they sit, no legwork required.

“Once something is purchased, the shops make sure that the goods arrive anywhere nationwide within 10 days at the latest,” he said.

The source further explained that people are talking about which foreign currency shops have better goods and which ones provide timely deliveries.

“Since people flock to the shops with good reputations, shops are scrambling to compete with one another,” he said.

Young North Koreans are making particularly good use of online foreign currency shops. Unlike their parents, who went to markets with cash in hand to buy goods, the younger generation appears quite keen to use electronic payments.

“Mobile foreign currency shop apps are popular because people can live a civilized life buying and receiving goods on the Internet using electronic payment systems, which makes them greatly preferred by the young generation,” said the source. “Some young people even use them to buy flowers or birthday presents to send to their boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s homes.”

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