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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
A North Korean IT company has launched an Amazon-style online retailer using an electronic payment system and offering services including online booking, the state-run DPRK Today reported on Thursday.
The state-run outlet reported that the “Sili online store (실리전자상점),” recently developed by Pyongyang Kwangmyong IT Company, is being widely used by North Koreans and has received favorable reviews from customers.
Sili (實利) roughly translates to “true profit.”
The e-commerce market— which can be accessed using both mobile phone and PC — is reported to be an “electronic commercial service system for purchasers, sellers, and managers.”
The store, the report said, differs from other online commercial platforms as it allows sellers to customize the design of their homepage depending on the type of business.
Sili provides various sales services, it continues, including a reservation platform allowing users to make online bookings.
In addition to buying electronic goods, furniture, and other products, customers can reportedly use the platform to make reservations for trips to attractions including Mt. Paektu, Mt. Myohyang. Mt. Chilbo, Pyongyang, and the eastern and western coast.
The users can book flights between Pyongyang and Mount Paektu, Pyongyang and Wonsan and other “tourist flights” as well as buy train tickets from Pyongyang to Hyesan, Sinuiju, and Chongjin.
They can also make reservations at high-end Pyongyang restaurants and book movie tickets.
The provision of the online booking services, however, appears to be confined to the DPRK capital: all the flights and train departures listed in the photo are from Pyongyang and all available theaters and restaurants are located in the city.
The website also offers discounts and bundle pricing, and a photo carried by the DPRK Today showed packages of products on sale at a lower price to mark anniversaries including Mother’s Day and national holidays.
The e-commerce platform allows users to pay online through the Narae, Kumgil, and Sili electronic payment systems.
The Korea Daesong Bank (Choson Taesong Unhaeng), currently blacklisted by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for its role in illicit money-making activities, launched the prepaid Kumgil card in 2016. The Narae prepaid card, in turn, was issued by the DPRK Foreign Trade Bank in 2010.
It is unclear what “Sili” electronic payment system exactly refers to, however. It could refer to a dedicated independent online payment system on the online store, or to a debit card launched by the North East Asia Bank of the DPRK in 2005.
The DPRK Today on Thursday reported that customers can also use an “electronic credit payment system,” (신용전자결제체계) but did not give further details.
While the language used suggests North Koreans could pay using a credit card – previously unheard of in North Korea – NK News was unable to verify its precise meaning.
“People can purchase products with better quality at the same price and more easily at home, saving themselves the effort of looking around many shops, by using the Sili online store,” the outlet said.
The media also notes the e-commerce platform’s benefits for sellers.
“…stores and factories are able to reduce selling costs and accurately analyze the demand for a product, and it brings the effectiveness of enhancing product competitiveness.”
Some of Sili’s services overlap with those of e-commerce website Manmulsang, operated since 2015 by the North’s Yonphung Commercial Information Technology Company.
Edited by Oliver Hotham