Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sweden’s Customer Service Rankles The Boozehound Inside Me

I was in the System Bolaget yesterday buying some glögg in a bottle. I found myself standing in line with the cash register on my left hand side, behind an older woman who was standing in line behind an even older man. Let’s say he was about 60. The Swedes have a habit of looking healthier as they age though so he may have been 75. Who knows. He had paid his money. He had moved to the end of the rolly conveyor belt thingy that delivers the booze and was packing it into his plastic sack that he had paid 1 SEK for. And that’s when it happened.

The older man reached his hand out to collect his change. And the cashier, let’s call him Lars, snapped. Lars began lecturing the older man about how if he were forced to reach across his body to hand people their change with his right hand he would hurt himself. So he made the man come back to the cash register to collect his change. To his credit the older man tried to laugh it off and make it into a joke. Lars was having none of it. Apparently the Christmas stress was getting to him because he snapped back that he was just making sure that the older man understood and that it just wasn’t feasible to reach across all day.

I of course began thinking, Lars is nuts. And lazy. And is probably hoping to get hurt so that he can collect his sick leave money and not have to work. There were just so many solutions available that would have made lecturing a nice old man unnecessary. The most obvious being, of course, to move the change to his left hand so that he wouldn’t have to reach across his body. But that was probably too easy. I just couldn’t believe that this had happened right in front of me. He gets paid to hand people their money and yet somehow he has the balls to lecture someone on proper change giving form. I suppose when you work for a monopoly there is no need to have good customer service. What is the old man going to do? Buy light beer from the grocery store and boat over to Finland for any of his other alcohol needs?

All this made me realize just how important a little competition can be good for everyone. But especially the consumer. Lowers the prices a little bit, which would be welcomed by anyone who has bought booze at Systemet lately, and it should, at least in theory, improve customer service. No one wants to go to a store that has a bunch of Lars’ employed who are ready to lecture you at the drop of a 5 kronor piece.

Of course, the advocates of this monopolization of alcohol in Sweden argue that lowering the prices would lead to untold deaths, a ridiculous rise in alcoholism, destruction of property, abuse, neglect, and crime. I don’t buy it. For one thing I would imagine that if prices were to drop a lot of the people who are buying their booze from other countries would start doing it here in Sweden, which would just bring a little money back into the country. And there is so much black market booze shopping that it would eliminate the need to smuggle car loads of beer in from Germany.

But the Swedes seem happy the way the system is. It’s almost like it has become a part of their society. Friday afternoons you get in line at the System Bolaget and buy your alcohol and just accept that one can of beer is going to cost at least 10 SEK. And then you move on smiling dumbly, paying your taxes.


  1. How in the heck is he going to hurt himself giving someone his change back????????????

    Come on now!..F'n idiot! I'd of said something to him for his complete lack of respect for others and his own stupidity. I wouldn't of been able to help myself.

  2. Ok, Lars sound like a real dumb ass. fortunately, Systemet-employees like Lars are ridiculously rare, I have never met anyone. Actually, if you ask me, I like the Systemet-store better than, for example, the English liquor-stores. i think they're pretty much always nice, except for the cp-Lars every now and then, and know a lot about their products and are glad to help you.

  3. Must be jul!! He was tired of people.

  4. Well, in Finland they lowered the prices of booze, now they are planning to put the old prices back, because people really started to drink. But now people get more booze from Estonia, as they used to do before. No sense detected here.

    Merry Xmas to you!
    I enjoyed reading this article, my kind of stuff :)

  5. Yeah, I think he was definitely an abberation. Most of my experiences at the System Bolaget have been very good. And maybe he was just tired fromthe Jul rush. But it was still hard not to make a smartass comment because it was just so ridiculous.

    @ Smek This, it really is interesting about the pricing because it seems that no matter what people will get a hold of their booze.

  6. I understand him. It was bad that he got angry, but I still agree with him. He should've politely asked the customer to come forward and pick up his change.

    A couple of days ago at Systembolaget, the cashier started putting my bottles in the bag for me. First, this is just wrong. I can do it by myself!

    Second, she was doing it while sitting down, and could hurt her shoulders. Very bad if she does that regularly, and I told her so.

  7. It's just so interesting to me that this is the Swedish attitude. In the US customer service rules all else and so cashiers are trained to help out in any way they can. Or at least at the good stores they are.

  8. I don't believe that taking away Systembolagets monopoly is going to change the prices in any major way (a few SEK maybe).

    The Swedish goverment decided a long time ago that alcohol is bad for everyone. Sweden therefore have one of the world's highest taxes on alcohol.

    So even if everybody was permitted to sell alcohol it would not do any major difference.

    I can´t remember exactly, but I think that when you buy a 400SEK Vodka about 250SEK is tax (this could be wrong).
    So the vodka itself only cost about 150SEK, (this could also be wrong) so if you want to start and sell alcohol it would be hard to make a profit.

    If the goverment decided to remove the Systembolaget all together, then you maybe would have chance to make some profit.

    But if the taxes would remain the same then it would be hard to compete with alcohol sellers in Denmark, Germany and Finland.

    But the goverment will probably not lower the taxes.
    Beacuse the alcohol costs the Swedish society about 150 billions SEK per year in social costs, but the goverment only gets about 10-11billions SEK each year from alcohol taxes.

    // The Foreigner

  9. very good point about the taxes playing such a huge role in the pricing of alcohol. and very true.