Friday, September 29, 2000

The Cyber Scene in Stockholm ~ by Karl Palmas

TLA’s are no longer what they seem

I know that it might be a bit early in the year, but it is reasonably safe to say that this year’s most extravagant corporate get-together took place this weekend. Cell Network, the new media consultancy, put 1600 of their employees on a train bound for the north of Sweden for a wacky weekend of hangings and fistfights. Cell had leased Sweden’s premier ski resort, Are, and completely transformed it into a Wild West-like setting for their conference. Thus, the city was under siege by not only Cell consultants, but also stuntmen cowboys. Generally speaking, the consultants did the conferencing, and the stuntmen did the fist fighting.

One Cell consultant I talked to after having come back from the weekend hailed the happening as an extraordinary corporate bonding exercise. I guess fist fighting can induce bonding, in a 'Fight Club' kind of way, but still: Why the Wild West theme? The information officer at Cell talks about events like the one in Are as a means to tell a story, the Cell story. What IS the story then? Well, to Cell, the environment in which they operate, the WWW, is full of pioneers breaking new ground and establishing new infrastructure. Hence, the three-letter acronym might just as well stand for Wild Wild West. Bit of a stretch? Naah...

Two weeks ago I reported on a subtle, yet discernible B2C renaissance in Stockholm. Underlining that trend, Connectis (Financial Times’ e-commerce supplement) recently published a survey stating that Sweden is catching up on the US lead in end customer e-commerce. Prestigious pink press praise aside, there is other, more indicative, evidence suggesting that shopping over the web is here to stay: The Swedish wine monopoly is going online.

One of the many eccentricities of Sweden is that liquor is not available in regular supermarkets. In order to acquire alcoholic beverages, the (law-abiding) Swede will have to visit 'Systembolaget', state-owned establishments scattered all over the country. Once there, the thirsty customer will have to sacrifice at least thirty minutes of his/her working day (shops are only open weekdays, during office hours) waiting to be served. Until now, that is.

Starting next week, Stockholmers will be able to purchase their Absolut Vodka over the web. A fact that splits the population in two: Some say that the previous, cumbersome procedure to get hold of liquor inhibits consumption and hence is in line with the restrictive Swedish alcohol policy. Others rave excitedly over how they now finally get it: How they for the first time can see Internet technology being put into use for the public interest. Maybe delivering Booze to Citizens is what B2C is really about.