Swedish Mail Order Still Cautious About Web

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STOCKHOLM - Swedish mail order companies sold goods worth about 500 million crowns, or $55 million, on the Web last year, some 6 percent of their sales and double the 1998 total.

"All of Sweden's mail order houses are online," said Lennart Heljesson, the head of the Swedish Mail Order Association, a group with 46 members including online-only book seller bokus.com.

Other media and publishing companies, however, are wary of the Internet and use their Web sites as prospecting and information disseminating vehicles rather than for sales.

Sweden is the hub for Scandinavian mail order sales, Heljesson said, explaining that Swedish companies are the main players in the other three Nordic countries -- Norway, Denmark and Finland.

He added that most majors are foreign-owned with France's La Redoute the largest, because of its purchase several years ago of Ellos, Scandinavia's largest mail order house.

Other non-Scandinavian players include Yves Rocher, a French cosmetics company and the United Kingdom's Great Universal Stores.

Home delivery of product is still a problem in much of Scandinavia. The Danish Post delivers to homes, and the Swedish Post has begun to do so. But it charges extra.

Add mail order house service charges, and home delivery is too expensive for many Swedes who prefer to go to the post office or pick up goods at gas stations or service shops.

"Change is coming, but it is slow." Heljesson said about Swedish Post's tussle with home delivery, the one weak spot in an otherwise modern operation that was privatized well ahead of others in Europe.

Swedish Post moved first to the Internet, setting up its own portal, Torgut, in the mid-nineties and changing it into the country's most popular online shopping mall in 1999.

Mail order companies have been among its major users. Most mail order association members have sites on Torgut where they offer "a full range of merchandise."

Still, Heljesson does not see the Internet as a competitor, at least not yet. "Some sites are not doing a good job because they are not professional enough in terms of logistics and customer service."

As a result, he added, customers don't buy twice from them. "A lot of them shoot from the hip and are amateurs."

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