Bad Weather Sees Swedes Hunting for Online Solace

Although sunshine and warm weather may not be what Scandinavia is known for in the rest of the world, good weather in the summer, as short as it is, makes all the difference for the region's inhabitants. The winter, as most of the world does know, is mercilessly cold, dark and long.

Unfortunately, the weather gods did not deliver this year. The many Swedes who took their chances and decided not to follow their more migratory compatriots to warmer Mediterranean shores could only watch as the traditional July vacation period literally rained away.

Seeking solace, droves of Swedes took refuge on the Internet. More than 3.75 million Swedes aged 12 to 79, no fewer than 53 percent of that age group, surfed the Internet during July, an increase of 19 percent over the same period a year ago, according to traffic watcher MMXI Nordic. On average, they spent 6 hours and 19 minutes online, an increase of more than one hour from last year.

No doubt, more than a few of them spent that extra hour hunting for real sunshine in the virtual world. Now, consumer-oriented electronic commerce is supposed to be teetering on the brink of a vast abyss, at the bottom of which several former high-flying startups with roots in Sweden already are resting in peace. The recent demise of former media darlings Boo.com Group Ltd. and Dressmart proved that the rise of online commerce was not such a done deal after all.

Run by prime representatives of a new generation of young, technology- and marketing-savvy Swedes with international ambitions, in hindsight it is only too easy to see why both Boo.com and Dressmart failed. What were they thinking trying to flog sportswear and business attire over the Web? And what were the investors thinking? Oh well, at least they served to remind people that risk is indeed an integral part of venture capitalism.

For the online travel industry in Sweden, meanwhile, the summer's bad weather resulted in booming sales. Sun-starved Swedes surfed their way through the jungle of travel sites snapping up last-minute package tours and airplane tickets to warmer destinations.

To be sure, buying a packaged holiday trip over the Web makes a whole lot of sense, as compared to buying clothing. It's not the kind of product you can touch or feel anyway, even if you went to buy it over the counter. Online, the buyer can also easily compare offerings from different tour operators, something that in the real world would require visits to separate shops and lining up only to withstand pitches from salespeople.

What is also notable is that it was the "old" industry giants that were the major beneficiaries of the Swedish boom in online travel sales this summer. For most of them, online sales still make up only a small, albeit rapidly growing, portion of their business.

One of the largest package tour operators in Sweden, Fritidsresor, in mid-July saw online sales surpass 10 percent of total revenue for the first time. The company now expects 25 percent of sales to originate online within the next two years.

Many a young e-commerce-entrepreneur-wannabe could also do worse than to visit some of the travel Web sites, such as www.always.se, www.apollo.se, www.fritidsresor.se or www.ving.se. They may not be the most technology-savvy sites out there, and some of them do not even accept online payments yet.

Unlike Boo.com, with its state-of-the-art technology, however, these brick-and-mortar package tour operators tend to make, not lose, money.

And no matter how good or bad the weather, that's what business tends to be all about in the virtual as well as in the real world.

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