A North Korean company has launched an online shopping platform for North Korean businesspersons, with a platform to upload information about products and directly exchange opinions with buyers, multiple articles in state media have revealed.
However, it is possible the website’s developers have borrowed major parts of its user interface from Microsoft’s Windows 8 and Naver, one of South Korea’s major internet companies.
“Recently, the Yeonpung Commercial Information Tech Company [rough translation] has developed a website called ‘Manmulsang’ to provide commercial services that can be used via the national computer network and mobile communications,” Arirang-Meari, a North Korean outlet, said on Tuesday.
The name “Manmulsang” can be directly translated into “shop with ten thousand items.” As the name says, one of the notable features of the website is its “Amazon” style user-to-user commercial service, which remains in a very primitive state.
“On the site, the Eommuja (businesspersons) can upload information about products they are wishing to sell and manage the list, while the sellers and consumers can exchange their opinions using the ‘messaging feature,’” the article read.
Arirang-Meari does not make it clear whether individual North Korean shoppers can purchase products from companies using the Manmulsang platform.
One defector, who left Pyongyang last year, explained that the website seems to be limited to company to company transfers, not individuals.
“The important word in this article is the Eommuja, meaning businesspersons,” Kim Jun Hyuk (alias), a former businessman from Pyongyang, told NK News.
“This shows that the website is for businesspersons, and as they operate under their company name, the transactions will most likely be done under the companies’ names only.”
Offline hubs for trading information between businesspeople have existed for a couple of years, Kim said, adding that appearance of this online system shows that more and more North Koreans want an easier way to exchange market information.
“The adaptation of the self-supporting accounting system has allowed companies associated with the North Korean government to conduct ‘independent transactions’ with trading companies to be supplied with goods they want,” Kim explained.
“The department stores or restaurants under the government tend to have poor networks or access to the information on which to buy which products from, so to resolve this problem, the Pyongyang government might have permitted the creation of this new online commercial service.”
Kim also added that many North Korean trading companies focusing on importing foreign products have been engaging in a trading war to expand business, another factor that might have played a role in increased demand for a platform like Manmulsang.
While it seems that Manmulsang only provides company-to-company services at the moment, the website’s domain – uploaded on Arirang-Meari – shows it has almost everything one would expect from a web-based buying and selling platform.
The main page provided options such as “uploading my product,” “my product,” “commercial information,” “information on companies,” “information on restaurants,” and even the latest “foreign exchange rates”.
In regards to the “commercial information” tab, Arirang-Meari’s article said that “people can browse and exchange opinions about the domestic and foreign economic information,” adding that such a service is “new” for North Koreans.
The interface on the mid-left side showed what looks like categories of items, which included clothing items, children’s products, cosmetics, groceries, medical supplies, computer parts, electronics, electric generators, lighting fixtures, and machine equipment.
Manmulsang also provides “payment, transportation” services, the banner reads, while a stack of electronic payment cards with the company’s logo indicate the website uses a card payment system as well.
Other images released on Naenara, one of North Korea’s main outlets focusing on business and trade, also showed that it has a mobile application as well.
Another article uploaded on DPRK Today, another North Korean outlet, showed that the link to the website is www.manmulsang.com. But multiple attempts to access the website using two different browsers have failed, suggesting the site is strictly built for the internal access only.
Very little of Yeonpung Commercial Information Tech Company, the developer of Manmulsang, is known at the moment.
Currently, the only public information about the company could be found on Naenara. According to the website, the company was found in February last year by a CEO named Park Hyok, with its headquarters located at Nangnang-guyŏk, Pyongyang.
Along with the Manmulsang service, it said the company also develops all sorts of programs on demand and provides electronic goods repair, as well as running a restaurant, shop and even a video game arcade.
The user interface of the North Korean website shares striking similarities with ones found in U.S. and South Korean companies.
“That search bar user interface is undoubtedly from Naver,” Shim Hahng, a research assistant at the Department of the Microelectromechanical Systems of Tohoku University told NK News.
“The overall design of the Manmulsang platform seems to have come from Windows 8’s Metro UI,” said Shim, explaining that while it is unlikely the programmers used Windows’ system codes, they might have instead just “borrowed” its design to recreate their own.
“But I do not understand why they would have adopted Window’s UI, while they could have easily copied it from Amazon, one of the most well-known companies in this field.”
One long-time North Korea economy watcher argued the company has high potential to expand its business from “company-to-company only” to a company-to-individuals model and even to an individual-to-individual platform.
“North Korea has started the research on electronic commerce since 2005, and it is expected to grow bigger every year,” Dr. Lim Eul-chul, professor at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University told NK News
“Increase in the numbers of merchants lead to high competition in the North Korean market, thus naturally leading to improved quality of services from Donju (North Korean entrepreneurs).”
“One of such efforts is its development in electronic commerce. While such platform is majorly used by the trading companies only, soon, I expect, that North Korean individuals will participate in this new trend.”
Edited by: Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Arirang-Maeri
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