‘Harryhandel’: Is the return of cross-border shopping in Norway really a good thing? 

The pandemic cut-off Norway from its neighbours, putting a temporary end to border shopping. Now ‘harryhandel’ trips are allowed again businesses in the country fear they will lose out as shoppers look abroad for cheaper groceries. 

Pictured is Norway and Sweden's border on the old Svinesund bridge.
Will the return of border shopping have a negative affect on the country? Pictured is Norway and Sweden's border on the old Svinesund bridge. Photo by Petter Bernsten/AFP.

In eastern Norway, particularly along the border with Sweden, cross-border shopping has long been common for residents looking for cheaper groceries and a better selection of products. 

Norway’s Covid-19 rules effectively put a stop to that until this summer. The closed border meant a record year for food and beverage sales in Norway. 

“Due to the fact that there was little action and that people did not travel, we noticed that our sales increased greatly during the entire period,” Øyvind Berg, production manager at Norwegian dairy firm Synnøve Finden, explained to public broadcaster NRK.

Now producers and supermarkets fear the impact of cross-border shopping being up and running again. 

“Our challenge is that we see that more than half of the food and beverage producers, i.e. the industrial companies, fear that they will lose market share because cross-border trade will return in full,” Petter Brubakk, director of food and beverage at the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO), informed NRK. 

The majority of those who go shopping across borders in Norway will do so in Sweden. However, in the north, some will also venture into Finland or Russia.

Further south people will also travel to Germany or Denmark. 

Why do people go to other countries for shopping? 

Overall the main appeal of cross-border shopping is that its much better for consumers than shopping domestically. 

Norway’s EEA agreement with the EU means that most foods, drinks, tobacco products, alcohol and other agricultural products are more expensive than they are within the EU as custom duties are required to import them into Norwegian supermarkets. 

Not just that, but there is a much wider selection of products than in Norway due to laws that protect Norwegian products. For example, cheeses such as Cheddar are more readily available, cheaper and generally of better quality in other countries than those found in Norway. 

READ MORE: What is ‘harryhandel’, and why do Norwegians love it so much?

Is border shopping a bad thing for Norway?

Norwegian businesses argue that crossing the border to shop affects the whole value chain, negatively impacting everyone from Norwegian farms and producers to supermarket employees, not just companies profit margins. 

“My advice is to encourage Norwegians to buy Norwegian food, and help secure Norwegian jobs throughout the value chain,” food and agriculture minister Sandra Borch told NRK. 

In addition, shopping domestically means more tax revenue for the Norwegian system to use to fund its generous welfare state. 

While shopping domestically protects domestic jobs, shopping abroad protects jobs there, which rely on people hopping the border to get their groceries. 

Coronavirus pandemic restrictions left a black hole in some of these economies reliant on shoppers from the Norwegian side of the border. For example, in Strömstad, a Swedish town close to the border where many travel to shop, unemployment rose by around 75 percent after Norway closed its borders with Sweden. 

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This is how big Black Friday has become in Norway

Norwegians set a Black Friday spending record in 2015 and if Google search trends are any indication, a new record is likely this year.

This is how big Black Friday has become in Norway
Shoppers at last year's Black Friday sale at the Norwegian Outlet in Akershus. Photo: Jon Olav Nesvold / NTB scanpix
Norwegian shoppers have fully embraced Black Friday, the super sales event that marks the beginning of the Christmas consumer season. 
The trend started in the United States, where Black Friday is held the day after Thanksgiving. The spending frenzy earned its name as the day that allowed retailers to operate at a profit (“in the black”  as opposed to “in the red”). 
Despite its American roots, Black Friday has quickly become Norway’s most important shopping day. Norwegians pulled out their credit and debit cards a full 7.6 million times on Black Friday last year, spending over 3.1 billion kroner. 
That set a new spending record for the day, beating the 2014 Black Friday results by 19.5 percent according to figures from Nets and BankAxept. 
According to research done by online savings portal CupoNation, Norwegians’ interest in Black Friday has exploded in just a few short years. 
“Not so many years ago, almost no one in Norway knew about the American shopping tradition Black Friday. But over the last couple of years, more and more stores, both online and ‘in the real world’, have started to provide discounts on this specific day in November,” Pål Kaalaas, the company’s digital marketing manager for Norway, told The Local. 
The rapid increase in interest is reflected by Norwegians’ Google searches for Black Friday info and deals. On Google's 0-100 search interest scale, Black Friday related searches went from just four in 2010 to 100 in November 2015, when there were over 200,000 Norwegian Google searches for Black Friday. 
Image: CupoNation
Image: CupoNation
The unofficial holiday has even caught up on another imported American tradition, Halloween. According to CupoNation’s research of Google searches, Black Friday has quickly gained on Halloween over the past five years and now threatens to overtake it in terms of online interest.
Image: CupoNation
Image: CupoNation
And although there are still a handful of days before the consumer madness begins, Google results show that many shoppers in Norway are already plotting their spending. 
Image: CupoNation
Image: CupoNation
As a whole, Norwegians are expected to increase their Christmas spending by four percent over last year according to projects from the Enterprise Federation of Norway (Virke).