They Wanted To Change the Way We Shop Forever, but then Never Showed Up*

Many feared that the American internet giant Amazon would come to Denmark, take over shops and leave the main streets deserted. But even though the American giant now plays just a tiny role in the Danish retail market, it has still dramatically changed everyday habits.

In the U.S., more Americans are members of Amazon than of a church.

And in the U.S., Germany and the U.K., Amazon controls more than one-third of all online retail business.

This is why Danish shops and online retailers have for years feared the retail behemoth, known for eating up anything that gets in its way. They feared that the Amazon machinery would come rolling through Danish high streets, leaving devastation in its wake.

Today, five years after the first rumors about Amazon coming to take over Denmark and changing the way of shopping forever, very little has actually changed.

Amazon accounts for only a tiny percentage of Danes’ online shopping.

Just a few years ago, the giant was the second largest online retailer in Denmark; it has now slipped to 11th place on the Danish Chamber of Commerce’s ranking of the top online retailers in the country. Amazon’s market share of the Danish online retail market is 0.8%.

But even though Amazon has not quite conquered Denmark, the American titan has still had a significant impact on the daily lives of most Danes.

“We may not notice it, but Amazon has had a huge effect on Danes and their way of shopping,” says Niels Ralund, director of e-commerce at the Danish Chamber of Commerce. “It has forced all other retailers to up their game.”

Baking Pans for Chocolate, Excrement and Goose Water

There are several explanations as to why Amazon never became as popular in Denmark as feared. One of them is the less than elegant entry into the Swedish market.

In Denmark, all shopping transactions take place via Amazon’s German website. This was also the case in Sweden until 2020, when, drawing inspiration from the ABBA hit, the internet behemoth unveiled “Project Dancing Queen,” the moniker for its strategy to enter the Swedish market.

This seriously concerned Danish retailers, because what awaited Scandinavia when business no longer took place over the German website, and an entire ecosystem of goods and services would come pouring in over the border through Amazon’s Swedish website?

There was particular concern that Amazon would roll out its loyalty program, Amazon Prime, in Sweden as well. Amazon Prime is considered the company’s way of locking customers into its ecosystem and providing a decisive competitive advantage for retaining customers.

For less than DKK 100/month (approximately $14), members get free shipping and quick delivery. In some places, deliveries arrive in less than an hour.

Prime members can also play computer games on “Prime Gaming” or listen to music, and watch movies and programs on Amazon Prime instead of Spotify or Netflix.

The fear was whether Nordic online retailers would be able to keep up with Amazon’s prices, benefits and record delivery times, and that the online retail giant would turbocharge the demise of shops.

But there were already significant challenges when Amazon launched its Swedish website.

It often turned into a hilarious knee-slapping comedy when you scrolled through the 150 million products on offer due to the embarrassing number of serious translation errors. Among other things, one could purchase a “colorful rape flower.” The site marketed LEGO as “armored abuse.” You could buy a card congratulating someone with “massiv kuk,” which in Swedish also refers to male genitalia.

It was also possible to purchase a “cake pan for chocolate, excrement and goose water” and you could find frying pans in the women’s department.

Although Amazon has now sorted out most of the mistranslations, its market share in Sweden has not increased.

“Amazon’s market share has not changed much in the last two years. Their market share is between 1% and 2%, the same as before the launch of the Swedish website,” senior adviser Cosmin Dan from the market research firm Euromonitor told the Norwegian news outlet E24.

Shriveling Up in Denmark

Although rumors have persisted since 2018 that Amazon was headed to Denmark, the giant retailer still has no Danish website.

Nevertheless, Amazon accounted for just under 2% of Danish online shopping and was the second largest player in online shopping in Denmark in 2016. And this was what had many shaking in their boots. Because what would happen when Amazon steamrolled its way into Denmark?

Amazon has now dropped to 11th place among the biggest online retailers in Denmark with a market share of 0.8%.

Ralund attributes this in part to the fact that both Danish and foreign online retailers have prepared carefully since the first rumors of Amazon’s entry into the Danish market first appeared.

“Danes have so many other good options for shopping. And those platforms are generally nicer and more customer service-oriented,” he says.

In 2015, a video went viral. It sent global online retailer into shock. The video shows a young man in a Manhattan apartment who feels like eating waffles one evening. He has neither the ingredients nor the waffle iron to make this happen, so what does he do?

Of course, he logs onto where he can buy both the ingredients and the equipment. He places the order at 7:04 pm. The package is delivered 24 minutes later, and he is eating freshly baked waffles at 7:43 pm.

At a time when the majority of online retailers took days, if not weeks, to deliver goods, a delivery time of 24 minutes was groundbreaking. And just like that, the bar was set for one of the most important competitive parameters in online shopping. And it was expensive.

Today, retailers such as and deliver groceries directly to Danish homes. And the bike courier service Wolt now delivers food, medicine and cigarettes right to your door in minutes. The national drug store chain Matas has also adopted a quick delivery model and delivers perfumes and creams directly to Danes on the same day they order.

“Danish retailers and online retailers really stepped up when everyone was talking about how Amazon would soon be coming to Denmark, so the advantages that Amazon had before are no longer there,” Ralun said. He also noted that other retailers have taken a more relaxed attitude toward Amazon. “We can see that in the U.S. now, Walmart and others are taking it pretty easy, and when Amazon comes up with something new, they just copy it. It’s taken the wind out of everything that Amazon comes up with.”

It Isn’t Over Yet for Amazon

The e-commerce director noted that when he meets with Danish retailers and online merchants, many no longer fear Amazon.

“I’ve always said that only a fool isn’t afraid of Amazon, and I still believe that. Amazon has the capital resources and the opportunities to do a lot, but the vast majority of people today have a relatively relaxed attitude about the possibility of Amazon entering the Danish market,” Ralund said, adding, “In any event, there isn’t anyone who still believes that Amazon will bulldoze the Danish market.”

Ralund does not expect that Amazon will enter the Danish market at full throttle.

“The Swedish market has been a bit troublesome for them,” he said. “And to then enter the Danish market and have even more trouble? I just can’t see it.”

However, if you ask Jeppe Hamming, partner and head of markets for the advertising and marketing agency Nørgaard og Mikkelsen, Scandinavians should not be too quick to think that Amazon is still not a player.

He expects that Amazon will grow in the years ahead.

“Amazon is far smaller in Sweden than in its primary markets of the U.S., the U.K., Germany, Japan, France, Spain and Italy. It is important to remember that Amazon opened up in the U.K. and Germany, for example, at the end of the ‘90s, so they have had many years to build up to the position that they now hold. It doesn’t happen overnight,” Hamming said.

Hamming noted that the numbers from Sweden show that an increasing number of Swedes are trying Amazon out. “Right now, I think that Amazon is well on its way to becoming the largest e-commerce site in Sweden in a few years. We will probably see a market share of 5%, so there is still a way to go before we see the same dominance as they have in the U.K., Germany and the U.S.”

It has not been possible to secure an interview with Amazon. The company notes that they do not comment on market share and pointed out that it has only been two years since Amazon launched the Swedish website.

Amazon Could Go Bankrupt

Amazon in not facing a headwind just in Denmark and Sweden.

The online giant has been hit by decreasing sales and concerns about its economic situation. Amazon has indicated that it expects expect slow growth during the usually lucrative holiday season. It has therefore implemented cost-cutting measures, including putting a pause on investments, and it is likely that 10,000 staff worldwide will be fired. This works out to about 3% of Amazon’s total workforce.

Other well-known internet giants have begun rounds of firing, too. Twitter and the Facebook group including Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp have let thousands of workers go.

All of the technology giants expanded during the pandemic when they recorded fantastic sales. Now impact of the war in Ukraine, inflation and the economic crisis have forced them to make cutbacks.

The downturn has also affected the price of Amazon stock prices. Shares have been steadily declining in value since November 2021, falling by about 54%.

This is why Amazon had the sad distinction in November of becoming the first company in the world to lose $1 trillion in market value in one year. This works out to about DKK 7 trillion kroner.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is not the type who thinks he can walk on water. On the contrary, he says Amazon is not immune from going bust. He made this surprising prediction in November (2018): “Amazon is not too big to fail … in fact, I predict one day Amazon will fail. Amazon will go bankrupt. If you look at large companies, their lifespans tend to be 30-plus years, not a hundred-plus years.”

Although Amazon has not exactly conquered Scandinavia, and its share price has plummeted, there is still a fair way to go before it hits bankruptcy.

With a market value of over $878 billion, which corresponds to building almost 280 Great Belt Bridges (the new bridge crossing the strait between the Danish islands of Zealand and Funen), the company can manage for a little longer.

*Editor’s note: The original Danish version of this article is available through a paid subscription.

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