FRIDAY, February 23, 2024

South Koreans eagerly collect cash rewards on app to ease economic woes

South Koreans eagerly collect cash rewards on app to ease economic woes

Outside an art museum during lunchtime in central Seoul, over 100 South Korean office workers, all glued to their mobile phones, were recently seen walking around, frantically tapping their screens – to earn pocket money.

They were completing tasks on "Toss", an app for financial services like loans, investments and electronic money transfers. The app started offering micropayments for completing simple tasks ranging from walking a set amount of steps a day, tapping icons, or answering simple questions to train artificial intelligence in January. It's taken a while to gain momentum but now, it's a hit among consumers.

Toss is the most prominent among a growing number of apps in South Korea offering similar rewards. Through viral marketing, where people organically spread the message of a service or a product, app developers are hoping to attract more downloads and retain more customers than conventional marketing strategies.

Some 4.4 million users have used Toss' cash-giving in-app feature since its January launch, and the number of people opening the app on handsets has increased by 30% thanks to the new feature, according to the developer, South Korean startup Viva Republica.

For consumers in a country grappling with inflation and high youth unemployment rates, the opportunity to earn money, however small, has received a warm welcome. A recent survey by the local job portal Incruit has found that as many as three-quarters of South Korean adults are engaging in such activities.

"Prices have risen sharply, so I'm using this (online banking) app to help me (earn money), even if it's a little,” said Lee Ju-young, a 28-year-old office worker.

Han Sun-Jae, 77 years old, said he had made some 50,000 won ($37.91) so far through the app.

“My daughter works nearby in Gwanghwamun, so she sent me a screenshot of how many people are gathered here… she told me that I could make more money here,” he said while using the app alongside many others gathered based on rumour and grapevine chitchat outside the Seoul Museum of Art.

Other users, such as 35-year-old office worker Song Ha-Jeong, said they were using the app to save up money to buy coffee – an example of a product hit by soaring inflation.

South Korean consumer inflation hit 5.1% in 2022, the highest jump since 1998 with food and transport prices soaring by 5.9% and 9.7%, respectively.

In a word of caution, some experts say that exchanging data for the opportunity to earn pennies could involve sensitive personal information being shared with third parties, and urged users to consider the tradeoff.