About the Author
Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
One of North Korea’s premier online shopping malls has seen a major increase in the total number of visitors since June 2017 and has been accessed 21.6 million times since coming online, according to a screenshot uploaded Thursday to outer-track state outlet DPRK Today.
While increasing just 10% between December 2016 and June 2017, most of the growth in total visitors to the site Manmulsang has occurred in the time since, seeing a 515% rise in total hits as of the latest screenshot.
The majority of that growth has come from users accessing the site through the mobile intranet network in the country, which now appears to comprise 75% of the total historical visits.
Compared to those obtained by NK News in December 2016, the most recent screenshot shows that total visitors over the mobile network specifically have gone from just around 110,000 to now over 16 million, with a jump of 14 million just in the period since June 2017.
The total number of visitors in general were 3.1 million in December 2016, 3.5 million in a June 2017 screenshot also posted to DPRK Today, and 21.6 million in the latest screenshot.
“People’s enthusiasm for viewing Manmulsang is increasing, and the number of members continues to grow” as a result of the site’s availability on mobile devices, the article accompanying the latest images said – a slightly modified version of one carried by the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) organ Rodong Sinmun on January 26.
Visitor statistics are displayed in a section at the top right of the Manmulsang homepage in two categories: “national network” (국가망) and “mobile phone network” (손전화망) .
The section also describes the total number of “registered users,” which has grown from 15,719 at the end of 2016 to 60,029 in the image posted Thursday.
While it is unclear how the site differentiates registered users on the mobile network from the total number through the national network in general, the number of mobile registered users has risen dramatically in the same period, from just 442 to 9605.
The newest screenshot also provides another data point for the number of products available on the online shopping portal, shown as a number in parenthesis under the “electronic shop” category and an icon that appears to be a copy of the Microsoft Windows app store logo.
This number grew rapidly from 4670 items in December 2016 to 15,615 in June 2017, and appears to be increasing steadily in recent months as well.
Showing just a few shy of 19,000 in an image of the mobile website taken in late December and reviewed by NK News, it has grown to reach 21,905 items in the latest image.
It appears, however, that this number has fluctuated over time as the site experienced a possible purge of items sometime in the second half of 2018.
A screenshot of the home page posted to the Choson Sinbo in December 2017 showed this total to be just over 33,000 items, while another posted to DPRK Today in April 2018 showed the number of items was 39,072.
Subsections for product categories match those shown on the site in December 2016, but include some new sections as well, which also showed up as early as April 2018.
These include one for “containers” under an icon of what appears to be a fuel can, one for “special items” under an icon of raw ginseng, and “reduced price items.”
Other main sections with icons that have appeared on the homepage consistently over time include those for “company information,” “convenience services,” and “economic information.”
The “delivery” section shown before is now missing, however, while new sections in the screenshot posted February 14 include ones for “recommended items” (showing the number 110 above a thumbs-up icon), “virtual visiting,” and “resting area” beneath a video game controller icon.
Thursday’s article said the “virtual visiting” feature allows users to “view the store or restaurant feeling as if they were actually there” – likely resembling the 360-degree in-store view available on Google Maps and other services.
The “economic information” section is described in the article as a hub where users can “view recent international and domestic economic news and knowledge.”
As for upcoming features, it also said Manmulsang’s developers at the Yonphung Commercial IT Company are working on ways to make the service more convenient.
“Workers and researchers … have set high goals for completing in the near term electronic payment system and delivery system through the national computer and mobile networks, and are vigorously engaged in research and creation battles to realize it,” the article said.
An advertisement for the shopping platform outside last summer’s international trade fair in Rason, however, said Yonphung “completed development of the e-payment system in April 2018” and that “it began formal operation in June.”
The ad described Manmulsang as the first online shopping site to begin operation in North Korea, starting in October 2015.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: DPRK Today