toys-7 There are some things you just can't get in Norway, especially in little cities like mine.  Looms are one of them.  (You know, the little rubber bands that knit together to make jewelry for kids.)  I asked around and the shop assistants looked at me funny.  (The same thing happened with the board game Trouble, with Simon Swipe, with backgammon, with kids chop sticks, with smencils, with a bubble wrap calendar, with...  yeah, the list goes on!)  So, I had to go looking on ebay to find some.  Most were from China, the UK, USA and Germany.  I only discriminated on price - the cheapest with free international shipping bought my business.  After studying the 'loom business' on ebay, I learnt the 'bottom dollar' rate and wouldn't bid for anything over.  I managed to get on average 2000 looms for NOK15 (or US$2.50).  After buying enough to bracelet a small army, the toy store Christmas catalogues in my city arrived in the mail box.  There, for the first time, I saw looms.  They were NOK199 for a kit of 2200.  I giggled to myself.  I had scored my goodies 10 times cheaper than the going rate in Norway.  But then it started to bother me.  I know the stores are all struggling in my city, and I like to support them, so this brings up the dilemma of whether to support local business or support my own pocket. It is widely known in Norway that most Norwegians shop online.  The post office has never been so busy!  However, there are annual newspaper articles complaining about international shopping destroying the local market and that it should be stamped out.  The things that deter Norwegians from shopping abroad are high shipping fees and high custom fees.  For customs to handle the product to check it costs around NOK130 (US$21) alone on top of the 30% extra of the price you bought the item for.  But still, it always seems to turn out cheaper buying internationally.  I buy my dance shoes from the USA.  The US doubles the price just in shipping and handling, plus import fees, but the shoes still end up being 50% cheaper than buying them in Norway.  Almost everything you can buy online is cheaper.  The most recent retail outburst has been about the government contemplating raising the import cost limit from NOK200 to NOK500.  Yay for consumers, but businesses know it will destroy them. toys-4 The cheapest Monster High dolls found at the cheapest store Nille - NOK249 or US$40.  At a regular toy store they are priced NOK299. Everyone knows that Norway is expensive, especially Norwegians.  I recently posted about how international traders up their prices when they know they are selling to Norwegian retailers.  But it can happen online too if the website detects your location.  There have been a number of times when I wanted to buy an item only to get a price hike when I insert my address.  In general, I would pay up to twice as much in airfares for a Norway-to-Australia trip if I paid from Norway than if I paid from Australia for the exact same days and flights/company.  This kind of business practice makes Norwegians get buy-savvy very quickly.  But sometimes, it is just too exhausting to play the price-war game and it is easier to give in to it.  There have been times I know I'm getting ripped off but I don't have the time or the energy to shop around.  I guess that is what retailers rely on.  But places like ebay don't discriminate.  Every buyer is playing on the same board (except for shipping - but that is why I only buy from 'free international shipping' stores).  Online stores like ebay means I can buy things at the same price as the rest of the world, and that feels good. Because of the small population and international shopping, it is really hard for retail businesses to succeed in Norway.  Though, the current trend of shop concepts (from bigger places in the world) are making it harder for new businesses in the Norwegian market.  I see many companies trying to introduce 'intensive' selling, only selling one product or a small range of products, like just ice cream, sweets or bikes.  'Niche' these days is a popular word, soon to turn dirty.  What these company's don't realise is there is not enough demand for one-product companies in Norway.  (What it really means is that they don't understand their consumers/market - they haven't done their research.)  In small communities, and most people live in small communities in Norway, the people are used to buying only their essentials locally, food and usables such as soap and cleaning products.  The other stuff has always been sourced from other places.  (Everyone regularly travels to Sweden, an 8 hours drive from my city, to shop at the nearest Ikea store!!)  It is common to shop online for couches, TVs, clothes and cars, and have them shipped up.  Up north you practically have to import everything.  Street shops have to compete against an import shopping tradition - Norwegians aren't used to paying for a middle man. toys-5 toys-3 Little lego sets are NOK49.90 or US$8.30 at the cheapest store, Nille. The retail stores that have survived are the ones that sell everything such as grocery stores, Biltema, Clas Ohlson and Nille - stores with thousands of cheap(ish) products.  In the small cities I have lived in Norway, I have seen my fare share of single product stores open and close.  In my little city of Alta, we have two little shopping centres and there are always stores, every month, going out of business and having bankruptcy sales.  Just recently an ice cream store opened in the main section of the shopping centre.  They sell four flavours of frozen yoghurt with an array of mix-ins.  Very 'nichey'.  But... We live in the Arctic!  How much ice cream would you think we'd want when we have two meters high of snow outside?  (Not to mention that it costs NOK30 (US$5) for just a couple of spoonfuls.)  There is a running bet on when the store will close.  What it seems is, it doesn't pay to specialize or franchise one product store concepts.  The best non-food stores that survive are kitchen and home supply stores or Nille (which is modeled after the famous One Dollar stores but ironically you can't buy anything for just US$1 there).  The largest clothes chain stores are H&M, Kappahl, Lindex and Cubus - all Target inspired - buy people are buying more and more clothes online. toys-1 Little Pet Shop are particularly expensive at NOK119 or US$20 for the 'littlest' animal. Particularly in my city, it is not just small brand stores that go bust, it is very common for the big brands too.  Intersport is an international sporting goods store in one of the shopping centres, which has just had a bankrupcy sale (conveniently before Christmas).  There have been two other major sporting stores in the last year that have gone bust too (and yet, more open).  Numerous cafes have gone bust - well, pizza does cost NOK300 (US$50) so not many like to eat out.  As my city grows, there is much controversy over the shopping centres.  We have two in the city, and they have brought down the other two shopping districts, turning them into ghost towns.  Now when I say 'shopping centre' I actually mean two two-story mini malls that have 20 and 30 boutiques, no eating halls and no entertainment areas such as movie theatres.  The centres are fiercely competing with each other and stores bounce around vacant spaces, trying to get better walk-by locations.  The city is on the edge, we are growing rapidly, but right now, there are just not quite enough people for all the shops to survive.  (We have under 20,000 people in our city.) toys-6 Normally NOK269 or US$45 for 12 colour pencils. The shops don't make it easy on themselves either.  Sometimes it seems they are causing their own downfall.  It is usual to receive junk mail that has been printed for the whole country so when you turn up to a store, usually a furniture or electrical store, expecting a certain price, you have to pay the 'northern' fee, which is usually NOK100-500 extra, depending on the product.  This has happened to me a number of times and I feel sorry for the shop assistants having to deal with it.  In general, the retail professionals say that prices are set to the maximum of what a customer will pay, but that doesn't seem to be true in Norway.  Prices seem to be set by how much the shops want to make a profit and so some prices are absolutely ridiculous.  I love my Ark store.  It is a book store brand, and while it has stores all over the country, I like mine because I can buy books from local authors (and they have a big English section).  I recently bought a book called Altaturer by Lise Ottem that we use all the time as our family enjoys hiking.  But sometimes the store just bewilders me.  I was looking for pencils and they had a half price sale.  The pencils at half price were NOK135 (US$22) for 12 (above).  I knew at the Nille store I could buy them for just NOK79 at full price for 36.  But I found them on ebay for just NOK12.  Which ones did I buy?  I wanted to buy the Ark store ones, I truly did, because I want to support one of my favourite stores (even though it is a chain) - I don't want them to die.  However, I would normally buy from Nille because of cheapness, lazinees and the 'now' factor.  But since the pencils are for Christmas, I bought them on ebay.  It breaks my heart not buying local because I love my city.  My city might be old (thousands of years, in fact) but it is still growing up, and I get to see its changes and improvements.  But I have to choose to support the local market or my pocket, and because I have a growing family, I choose the later. toys-2 These calendar gifts are from the cheapest store, Nille.  Only the chocolate eggs are below NOK20 or US$3.50.  Other toy store have similar toys with prices starting from NOK30.  These toys are the same every year.  It seems that Nille has bought a 10 year supply.  Not very interesting gifts for kids if they still play with the same toys from last year. So, this year I have bought all our Advent calendar presents on ebay.  Normally I hunt around the shopping centres for a month or two to find little NOK5 gifts but I found none - only lolly pops.  That travel article about Norway was right (link above) - you can't buy anything in Norway for $1.  The average price for calendar specific gifts have gone up to NOK20-30 (US3.50-5).  Buying 50 of them (I have two kids) can be a little extravagant.  Ebay has enabled me to spend less than a third of what I would normally.  Is this the beginning of the end for local trade?  Our city is trying to expand, but as the world opens up and Norway gets more expensive, I wouldn't be surprised if local stores melt away with the winter snow and become a myth for my grandchildren. 

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