Shopping season clicks into gear

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Parking lots were full at many shopping centers in Norway through the weekend, with retailers legally allowed to stay open on Sunday during the holiday shopping season. An annual bounty of Christmas markets was also in high gear, but high prices left Oslo at the bottom of an international list ranking the Christmas shopping experience.

Norway's Christmas shopping season kicked off this weekend, with crowds expected to increase along Karl Johans Gate. PHOTO: Views and News

The ranking in an index compiled by The Economist Intelligence Unit left Oslo in 32nd place on a listing of 33 cities, ranked in terms of how well their shopping is viewed. Only Geneva fared worse, with both cities penalized for their high prices not just for gift items themselves but also for transportation, hotels and eating out.

Oslo did get some points for good public transportation, long store opening hours and relatively safe streets. Overall, though, Oslo only scored 43 points out of a possible 100.

That wasn’t good news for city boosters and retailers but they can console themselves with reliance on the local market that’s presumably accustomed to the high prices that regularly stun visitors. Analysts predict Norwegians will spend around NOK 49 billion (USD 9 billion) during the Christmas season this year, but priorities may be different than in years past.

A new priority on food items can be good news for market vendors like this one, which specializes in sausages. PHOTO: Views and News

The Norwegian economy has remained strong at a time when other countries are in serious trouble, but the trouble beyond Norway’s borders may affect consumer spending. Some experts think the priority this year will be on food items, drinks, entertainment and donations to charitable causes, as opposed to expensive material goods.

“We see that many Norwegians are being more careful,” Vibeke Hammer Madsen, managing director of trade association Hovedorganisjonen Virke. “Growth has been lower than it could have been, and that’s reflected in some consumer uncertainty.”

A new priority on shared experiences with good friends and family (in the form of tickets for concerts or plays, for example, or gift certificates for restaurants or the cinema) or special food items can be good news for the various outdoor markets that specialize in Norwegian food products. The booths set up along Oslo’s Karl Johans Gate feature lots of ethnic Norwegian food, as do other markets around town.

The Norwegian Folk Museum held its annual julemarked (Christmas market) this weekend and will repeat the event next weekend. The emphasis at the outdoor market on the grounds of the museum is on Christmas foods and sweets, traditional decorations and handicrafts. Museum officials focus on historic and traditional Christmas celebrations, and have decorated many of the museum’s old houses in the style of the day.

Other Christmas markets have been held at Tøyen Hovedgård (the manor house now inside the grounds of the museums of natural history), Bogstad Gård, Bærums Verk, the Design and Architecture Center and Vøienvolden Gård. The city’s Christmas market downtown (moved from the City Hall Plaza to Karl Johans Gate this year) remains open from 11am until 8pm every day until December 20 while another will be held at Skjerven Gård on Maridalsveien next weekend.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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