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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Cross-border shoppers unite

Thousands of Norwegians who regularly travel over the border to shop in Sweden are now banding together through an online organization aimed at getting even better deals from Swedish merchants. The Norwegians may also succeed in getting better prices at home as well.

The Nordby Shopping Center just over Norway’s southern border to Sweden at Svinesund is usually packed with cars bearing Norwegian license plates, especially on the weekends. PHOTO:

The organization is called Harryklubben, which derives its name from the expression harryhandel coined when former government minister Lars Sponheim famously called shopping in Sweden harry (tacky, or lowbrow). Sponheim badly misjudged and underrated the market and motivation that sends millions of Norwegians over the border every year, but the term stuck.

Now a former boss of the frequent flyer program for Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), who knows a thing or two about nurturing customer loyalty, has realized there’s collective consumer power behind all the Norwegians fed up with high prices in Norway.  Until now they’ve been making unorganized, often solo treks south to Strömstad, east to Charlottenburg or over other transit points along Norway’s border to Sweden. Their purchasing power, valued at NOK 11.5 billion (USD 1.9 billion) last year alone, is impressive.

So Sven Jensen thinks Norwegians joining Harryklubben (The Harry Club) should flex their muscle over the border and demand even better deals. He told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Wednesday that his club will “fight” for lower prices and better service.

Negotiating special offers
He’s negotiating with Swedish grocery stores, hotels and auto mechanics to win extra discounts for club members. The goal is for those registering on the club’s website to get special offers on goods and services in Sweden, where prices are much lower and selection much better than in Norway. This, he figures, can result in better deals for the Norwegians and even more customers for the Swedish merchants. As many as 2 million Norwegians go shopping in Sweden every year, nearly half the country’s entire population.

Club members can also use Harryklubben’s website to swap tips and share experiences from various stores and restaurants in Sweden. Jensen also foresees club members getting together to share the ride to Sweden, and splitting expenses for road tolls and gasoline.

He told DN the club, which already has 8,000 members just four months after its founding, can also fight for lower prices on the Norwegian side of the border. “Our motto is that if we don’t get what we want here, head for Sweden,” Jensen said, noting that behind the club lies a solid dose of humour, idealism and sarcasm.

Challenge for high-priced Norwegian retailers
The potential purchasing power remains formidable, however, and poses new challenges for Norwegian retailers already. Norwegian car mechanics and workshops, for example, may be forced to lower their prices if their customers can get their cars repaired in Sweden for 40 percent less. Grocery stores from Moss to Fredrikstad and Halden may face the same issue if their aisles are deserted.

Thomas Angell of the retailers’ organization Virke in Norway thinks Harryklubben “is really harry,” and a reaction to the high taxes and fees that he blames for the high prices in Norway. “But I can’t run around and stop this,” Angell told DN. “That would be stupid.”

Initial feedback from the Swedish merchants, meanwhile, is positive, with Lars Öberg of the Quality Spa and Resort in Strömstad, Sweden  welcoming efforts that will stimulate even more shopping and overnight stays.

Harryklubben’s website (external link) is so far only available in Norwegian, but may grow even more if users lobby for some English text to include the thousands of foreigners living in Norway who complain mightily about high prices and make up a significant portion of those engaging in cross-border trade. Some immigrants in Norway already travel by bus in organized groups to Svinesund for weekend shopping.

Cross-border trade, meanwhile, continues to rise, especially after the government revealed plans to triple import tariffs on meat and cheese to further protect Norwegian farmers. Swedish retailers are already stocking up on items that Norwegians likely won’t be able to buy at home when the new tariffs take effect, while Norwegian investors are buying up retail property on the Swedish side of the border.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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