Inside Amazon’s Turbulent Swedish Rollout

By Elijah Labby Friday, October 30, 2020

The launch of Amazon’s much-anticipated Swedish website was, well, rough.

Glitches, translation mistakes, and confusing the Swedish flag with the Argentine flag all marred the release of Amazon.se, which some users called a disaster.

Translation errors were often obscene or otherwise insensitive and included using the Swedish word for “rape” instead of the Swedish word for “plant” as well as listing a frying pan as a women’s item.

An Amazon spokesman addressed and apologized for the errors.

"We want to thank everyone for highlighting these issues and helping us make the changes and improve Amazon.se," the spokesman said. "If anyone spots any issues with product pages, please do use the link on the page to provide feedback and we will make the necessary changes."

The mistakes contributed to an almost 3% drop in Amazon’s stock price on Wednesday — hardly an impediment to the continued growth of the company, which is currently the fourth-highest-priced stock in the United States at just over $3,000.

Despite Wednesday’s events, an Amazon website in Sweden will allow millions of products to be purchased directly within the largest Scandinavian economy, as opposed to Swedish customers having to order from a nearby country with Amazon service.

It’s also a step on Amazon’s path to cementing its status as the most valuable company on the face of the planet. The company hit that mark in early 2019 but will continue to experience challenges from other tech giants like Facebook, Apple, Google, and Microsoft, all of which are pushing to stay atop the world’s most valuable companies list.

And while some are bracing for the impact of Amazon’s Swedish website on “mom and pop shops” in the country, it is unclear how successful the company will be in contending with a new currency, a new culture, and a new consumer base.

In an attempt to establish itself in the new market, Amazon is sweetening the deal by providing free shipping on orders over $26. Because of this, Pricerunner CEO Nicklas Storåkers sees the new website as a threat to small businesses.

"Those are going to be the big losers. If you're not already in a tough situation, you're going to get one now," he said.

Sïmon Saneback, a tech entrepreneur based in Sweden, also sees Amazon’s presence in Sweden as good for Amazon and potentially fatal for companies unable to keep up.

“A gateway into Scandinavia, Sweden would be a real catch for Amazon. Something of a Trojan Horse, Amazon.se could shake the entire Nordic market with its low prices and high standards of customer care,” he wrote in an op-ed in The Local.

However, there is a possibility that Amazon will join the company of fellow tech mainstays like eBay and Apple — both of which pulled out of the area after facing roadblocks.

For Apple’s part, the company scrapped plans to build a flagship store in Stockholm, Sweden’s capital and largest city, after the Stockholm City Council vetoed the idea. They also declined offers to help the company find an alternate location. Similarly, eBay was forced to reevaluate its approach to selling in Sweden and ultimately changed its web address from www.ebay.se to a subsidiary brand called Tradera.
Although American consumers are perhaps most familiar with Swedish brands IKEA and H&M, both of which have heavily penetrated both the American furniture and clothing industries, respectively, Scandinavian consumers have also become acquainted with a number of retailers common in the United States. Retailers Uniqlo, Victoria’s Secret, Cartier, and Lululemon have expanded into Sweden to varying levels of success.

The companies, among others, became part of a test case in the spring, when Sweden took a different approach to mitigate the effects of the burgeoning coronavirus pandemic. While nearly all Western countries instituted sweeping lockdowns, Sweden took a different tack when it decided that “herd immunity” — when a population becomes sufficiently immune to a virus that its spread is more manageable — was the best response.

This approach was polarizing, and, because the pandemic is far from over, does not have a solid conclusion. What is clear is the pandemic’s effect on business in the country. The country’s economy plunged, experts predicted widespread unemployment, and its healthcare system was strained. Because the country’s businesses remained open and social gathering numbers remained high, cases boomed.

But Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, in a televised speech, said personal responsibility would carry the country through the illness.

“The only way to manage this crisis is to face it as a society, with everyone taking responsibility for themselves, for each other and for our country,” Löfven said.

Internationally, one business that has boomed amid the coronavirus is e-commerce. In the United States, Amazon saw what is estimated to be record sales on its promotional event, Prime Day, this year. And while Amazon’s push into Sweden may prove as unfruitful as Apple’s, indicators in the United States and abroad suggest otherwise.

About the Author


Headshot for author Elijah Labby

Elijah Labby is a graduate of the National Journalism Center. He has previously written for Broadband Breakfast, a technology and internet policy website.

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