The Korea Herald


[Survive & Thrive] Finding secondhand treasures in Korea

By Song Seung-hyun

Published : March 19, 2024 - 14:06

    • Link copied

An image from an ad features the purchase of secondhand goods through the Karrot app. (Danggeun Market) An image from an ad features the purchase of secondhand goods through the Karrot app. (Danggeun Market)

In neighborhood public spaces such as subway stations, it's not uncommon to witness individuals engaging in suspicious exchanges like in a spy film, often starting their exchange with a question that includes the Korean term, “danggeun.”

“Hoksi danggeun?” one might inquire to initiate the exchange, which literally translates to, “Carrots, by any chance?”

But while the word “danggeun” means carrot or carrots in English, these furtive traders are referring to Danggeun Market, a popular online platform for hyperlocal transactions, which enables its users to buy and sell secondhand items from their neighbors. Its English-language app is aptly named Karrot.

With garage sales and thrift shops not commonly found, Koreans find secondhand deals online, with Karrot and Junngonara being two of the most widely used platforms.

As of end-2023, Karrot had 36 million members, with 19 million categorized as monthly active users. Junggonara, which started as a community cafe on the web portal Naver and now operates both as app and a cafe, has 19.2 million members.

According to local market researcher Consumer Insight last year, Karrot is by far the most popular app for the direct trade of used goods, supported by 87 percent of the 3,577 people surveyed, followed by Junggonara at 26 percent.

A crucial prerequisite for both platforms is a Korean mobile phone number.

Those who don't speak Korean may face challenges at first when using these two apps due to the absence of support in English or other languages. But with the help of translation tools such as Google Translate, these apps are not too difficult to navigate and make finding secondhand goods in Korea easier and more affordable.

On Thursday, a Karrot user residing Uiwang, Gyeonggi Province, was selling a brand new, boxed De'Longhi electric water kettle for 45,000 won ($33.73). The same model is currently priced at 79,900 won on e-commerce platform Coupang.

Karrot: buying from your neighbors

As Karrot operates as a neighborhood trade and exchange app, facilitating transactions within specific communities, it requires a user’s ID and location to be verified. A user’s local area is confirmed by tracing the phone’s signal and GPS and they can browse listings from sellers located within a certain distance.

This strict verification system enables Karrot to be more than just as a platform for trading secondhand goods. It also has the unique feature of fostering diverse community connections and new types of exchanges.

"There is a bug in my room and I cannot kill it. Please come to my rescue," read a post that came up on the app on Sunday, which expressed the preference that a woman handle the task and offered a payment of 10,000 won for the job.

"I am passing by the area, so I can do the job," another user commented on this post.

On Karrot, it is easy to find individuals seeking neighborhood dinner companions or movie buddies, a hand at moving heavy furniture or store owners searching for part-time workers in the area.

As for secondhand trade, each item listed for sale displays the seller's "temperature," an indicator of their trustworthiness based on past transaction reviews. Every user starts at 36.5 degrees Celsius, with the number being adjusted based on reviews.

Upon finding a desired item, a user can initiate a chat with the seller -- both using nicknames to protect their privacy -- by pressing the orange button in the bottom right corner of the app interface. There, they can communicate directly about the item, negotiate the price and decide where to meet.

Be mindful of items marked "Nego X” in Korean, indicating the seller is unwilling to negotiate on the price.

After agreeing on the terms, users typically make payments through bank transfers after meeting in person and verifying the item's quality. If opting for cash payment, communicate this preference to the seller beforehand.

Karrot Pay, an additional payment system on the app, requires users to have a Korean bank account linked to the platform.

Junggonara for a nationwide selection

Junggonara, another popular app here, allows users to search for and purchase secondhand goods across the country.

As with Danggeun, signing up for the app also requires a Korean cellphone number.

Additionally, residents of foreign nationality need to provide their resident registration number and the name used when creating the Korean phone number to receive a verification code.

Alternatively, users can also sign up with existing KakaoTalk or Naver accounts.

Finding an item and initiating a chat with the seller follows similar steps as with Karrot.

After telling a seller you want to buy an item, use the "safe transaction" button to enable payment securely without directly sending money to them.

Using this system, the platform holds the funds until the deal is finalized. After the user receives the item, they then confirm the transaction through the app, and the money is released to the seller.

Moreover, Junggonara's payment system requires a credit card issued in Korea. While credit cards issued overseas cannot be used directly, a Junggonara official told The Korea Herald that they can be used through Naver Pay or Kakao Pay.

The Naver cafe "Junggonara" is widely used by locals and often boasts an even wider selection of used goods. However, access to it requires a Naver account and users often buy and sell without meeting, so extra care is required to avoid potential fraud.

Survive & Thrive is a series offering a guide to living in South Korea for those born outside of the country. – Ed.