North Korea has first e-commerce site, yet no internet

6 May 2015

Despite none of its citizens having access to the world wide web, North Korea has launched its first e-commerce store on its own highly-monitored national intranet.

Known as Okryu, the service is aimed at North Korea’s surprisingly large number of smartphone owners, who still lack the ability to connect to the wider internet, but will now be able to buy a range of products online, including cosmetics, clothing and food.

According to the Associated Press (AP), the site (and the North Korean government) are not exactly open to the idea of an open e-commerce platform, with payment only accepted in North Korean won from the government’s own banking system.

E-commerce in an economy with no advertising

Despite the country taking its first steps into e-commerce, Okyru is unlikely to be much of a profitable enterprise given that the vast majority of its citizens lack access to the country’s ‘domestic web’, let alone the wider internet, with almost all smartphone users based in the country’s capital, Pyongyang.

Even then, mobile phones are a relatively new phenomenon in the country, having been allowed by Kim Jong Un’s father and former ruler, Kim Jong Il, back in 2008.

Since then, however, the country has sold more than 2m phones; access to the country’s intranet was granted to the public to allow them to visit a handful of heavily censored websites created by the North Korean government.

Details and statistics of the site remain scant and. given that advertising is effectively banned in the single-party state, how it plans to promote itself to the small pool of ‘online’ consumers remains to be seen.

North Korea display image via (stephan)/Flickr

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic