Cross-Border Shopping in the Open European Market: 1 Litre of Hard Liquor, 20 Litres of Wine, 24 Litre of Beer, 400 Cigarettes, Max. 30 Kilo!

ABSTRACT - Using a participant observation approach, this paper examines consumer experiences, motives, and trouble involved in cross-border shopping in the open European market. A number of factors ranging from cultural differences to legal regulations maintain the consumers’ experience of crossing national borders, in this case between Sweden and Germany (via Denmark). This cross-border shopping behaviour involves various acculturation processes, types of shopping motivation, a dash of rebelliousness as well as a good part of physical and mental challenges. This report being mainly preliminary and exploratory, we conclude by pointing out directions for further exploration.


Anders Bengtsson, Jacob Ostberg, and Soren Askegaard (2001) ,"Cross-Border Shopping in the Open European Market: 1 Litre of Hard Liquor, 20 Litres of Wine, 24 Litre of Beer, 400 Cigarettes, Max. 30 Kilo!", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, eds. Andrea Groeppel-Klien and Frank-Rudolf Esch, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 246-252.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 2001      Pages 246-252


Anders Bengtsson, Lund University, Sweden

Jacob Ostberg, Lund University, Sweden

Soren Askegaard, SDU Odense University, Denmark


Using a participant observation approach, this paper examines consumer experiences, motives, and trouble involved in cross-border shopping in the open European market. A number of factors ranging from cultural differences to legal regulations maintain the consumers’ experience of crossing national borders, in this case between Sweden and Germany (via Denmark). This cross-border shopping behaviour involves various acculturation processes, types of shopping motivation, a dash of rebelliousness as well as a good part of physical and mental challenges. This report being mainly preliminary and exploratory, we conclude by pointing out directions for further exploration.


Consumers living in regions close to the border of another nation oftentimes find lucrative shopping incentives for crossing the border. Despite the European Union’s (EU) efforts to create a single internal market, the phenomenon of cross-border shopping is a familiar activity to some consumers living in the common market. Swedish consumers, especially the ones living in the southern part of the country, have long had a tradition of making the journey overseas (20 minutes by ferry!) to Denmark to stock up on alcohol, tobacco and other products that are highly taxed in Sweden. During the last decade, an increasing number of Swedes travel on to Germany since prices on these pleasurable products are lower there compared to in Denmark. When Sweden joined the EU in 1994 there was an anticipation among Swedes to finally be able to partake in the free trade between the countries and thus be relieved from restricting import quotas. However, the Swedish government managed together with the Danish government to negotiate an exception for private import of alcohol and tobacco. The governments in Sweden and Denmark feared that consumers of the two countries would travel to Germany to buy massive amounts of alcohol and tobacco and thus make the high taxation of these products impossible. Despite the fact that the free trade isn’t as free as many Swedish consumers expected it to be after joining the EU, a substantial amount of cross-border shopping is taking place. Bus-companies, ferry-companies, shopping malls, and of course consumers have shown enough interest in cross-border shopping trips that a cross-border shopping industry has emerged.

The single European market launched in 1992 is truly a paradox for consumers. While the governmental discourse suggests an open market with free trade between members of the EU, it appears as less of an open market for the individual consumers. The notion of crossing a border is maintained by the fact that many people still are obliged to bring their passports when travelling to another EU country. The Schengen agreement that potentially makes it possible for people not to bring their passports when travelling to another country that is part of the agreement may not have the desired result. Even if regular passport controls are called off for Schengen passengers, people are still supposed to be able to prove their nationality while visiting another country participating in the Schengen agreement. Since most Swedes do not possess any other document except their passport for showing proof of their nationality, there is in essence still a requirement for bringing the passport when crossing a border. Import quotas restricting consumers’ import of alcohol and tobacco furthermore contribute to the notion of crossing a border. To cross the border is to many Swedes a moment of anxiety but also excitement. People may be anxious to be stopped at the customs and forced to leave liquor they bought on top of the allowance. If they manage to get through the customs, which most consumers do, they may feel excited about the fact that they have cheated the authorities. When cross-border shoppers enter the shopping environment at the other side of the border, they experience differences in both currency and language in addition to other cultural differences. The meaning of crossing the border is therefore just as prominent today as it has ever been.

Despite the number of consumers who devote themselves to cross-border shopping, only a few studies have examined the phenomenon in further detail. Timothy and Butler (1995) as well as Di Matteo and Di Matteo (1996) examine cross-border shopping between Canada and the United States. Timothy and Butler analyze the role of shopping for creating tourism whereas Di Matteo and Di Matteo investigate antecedents like gas prices and currency rates and its impact on the extent of cross-border shopping. Wilson (1995) provides an extensive analysis of the motives and contradictions facing shoppers at the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. While Wilson discusses issues of national identity and the conditions for consumers crossing the borders, he does not examine consumers’ cross-border shopping experiences in much detail.

Given the number of consumers that are involved in cross-border shopping and the limited attention given to the subject in academia we found it interesting to study this phenomenon in further detail. Consumers’ experiences of cross-border shopping trips are not very well understood and we believe that a further examination of this empirical field can bring important knowledge to consumer behaviour. Even though in certain senses borders are dissolved between EU members, cultural borders will remain to be crossed in all foreseeable future. The subsequent section features a brief discussion of the methods used in this study of cross-border shopping. Following that is a description of some of the features of the trip starting with the route driven by the bus, continuing with an impressionist description of the actual destination of the trip B the Kaufland Mall B and finally a short description of the clientele travelling on the bus. The rest of the paper is devoted to discussing a number of themes that evolved from the data set and which shed light on some of the issues facing consumers on cross-border shopping trips.


The data presented in this paper emanate from participant observation and unstructured interviewing of consumers participating in cross-border shopping trips. The cross-border shopping trip we participated in starts in the southern part of Sweden and ends at a mall in Rostock, Germany. Participant observation has been suggested as a suitable method when the phenomenon is observable within everyday life (Jorgensen 1989). The cross-border shopping trips we participated in allowed us to spend eighteen hours on each trip to observe and talk to the travellers. One of the authors has participated three times in this particular cross-border shopping trip; the first time as a complete observer with no ambition to conduct any research; the second time as an observer with ambition to collect data through observation; and the third time as participant observer in collaboration with one of the other authors. In addition to merely observing the cross-border shoppers and listen to their conversations, we conducted a number of unstructured interviews in the form of conversations with fellow travellers/shoppers. Our role as researchers therefore depended on the degree of interaction with informants interviewed/ observed, ranging from relatively unobtrusive participators to participant observers and investigators (cf. Jorgensen 1989). In addition to this, we also conducted an interview with the manager at the bus company who was responsible for arranging the shopping trips in order to get at least one supply side view on the consumption phenomenon of cross-border shopping. The collected data consists of field notes from our observations, photographs taken during the trip and at the shopping mall, and verbatim transcripts from the interviews. In addition to this, the two participant observers in the author team have also conducted introspective analysis of their experience of participating in a cross-border shopping trip. These collected inputs were used to identify a set of analytical themes for understanding the consumers’ experiences of the cross-border shopping phenomenon.



Impressions from the Route

As mentioned earlier, the extensiveness of shopping across the borders have created a cross-border shopping industry consisting of collaborations between bus-, and ferry-companies, and shopping malls. The number of Swedish shoppers heading for Germany is substantial enough to supply several different companies running buses from southern Sweden to Rostock on a daily basis. The fare for travelling on one of the buses is 250 Swedish kronor (;27 Euros). The buses start out at different destinations in southern Sweden and end up in Helsingborg on the Swedish west coast to catch the ferry to Helsing°r in Denmark. Our bus picked us up at 4.20 a.m. in Lund and then drove around to various small villages in the area to pick up more travellers before finally arriving at the ferry terminal in Helsingborg to catch the ferry at 6.00 a.m. In Helsingborg all the buses gather and almost everyone gets out and is assigned a new seat in a different bus to assure that the bus company drive to Rostock with as few buses as possible. After the 25-minute ferry-trip to Helsing°r the buses drive straight for two and a half hours to Gedser in southern Denmark to catch the ferry to Rostock. After about two hours the ferry approaches the nice medieval Hansa-city Rostock with its picturesque half-timbered houses, cobblestone streets and impressive town wall. Minutes later everyone is nicely seated in the bus as it hurries along the autobahn, passing the town of Rostock to reach the real destination B The Kaufland Mall. The buses unload the passengers at 11:30 a.m., and the travellers quickly pour in to the shopping mall where they shop for two hours until the buses start loading at 1:30 p.m. At 2:30 p.m., the buses leave the Kaufland Mall to return by the same route. The bus we travelled on arrived on time in Lund at 10 p.m., 17 hours and 40 minutes after departure with some of the travellers still on the bus waiting to be dropped of at other destinations.

Impressions from the The Kaufland Mall

The final destination of the trip, the Kaufland Mall, is far from the charming streets of Rostock, both in physical and aesthetical distance (see Exhibit 1). The first thing a visitor sees is a McDonald’s sign and the vast parking space, followed by a few vendors selling bratwurst and other German delicacies. The main feature of the mall is the large store, Kaufland, carrying a large assortment from produce, fresh meat, various perishables and non-perishables, to wine, beer and liquor, and finally a rather large assortment of non-food items ranging from cheap clothing to lava-lamps. Kaufland is clearly the main attraction as the travellers pace like lemmings to the store and the lion’s share of the travellers continue straight on to the section of the store where beer, wine and liquor is displayed. Here, they end up spending most of the time looking for the best deals. Already on the way from the bus to the store entrance one is able tell which shoppers are the more experienced. They will be recognisable because they usually have the two-mark-coin necessary to get a shopping cart, whereas the others have to go through the burdensome task of changing money from unwilling and German-speaking natives.

The second most popular store among the travellers seems to be Aldi, a German discount retailer focusing on down-market brands. The logic for many shoppers seem to be to first check prices in both stores and thereafter divide their shopping between these two retailers buying the products from Aldi where they do not think the brand-names matter and buying the rest from Kaufland.

The Kaufland Mall also features a number of other stores selling things like sporting goods, electronics, leather goods, fashion, as well as a food court and a few restaurants. Even though these stores appear to have a rather large selection of name brand goods at competitive prices they seem to be patronised mainly if there is time left after the 'real business’, i.e., the grocery and alcohol shopping, is taken care of.

Impressions of the Clientele

Drawing on our observations as well as our conversations, we suggest that the people travelling on these bus-trips may be divided into a number of different sub-groups at various levels. The sub-groups are distinguishable by their somewhat differing motivations. These observations where further reinforced by an interview with one of the managers of the bus-company who talked about the different people travelling with them in terms consistent with our observations.

One major group consists of "the pros" who travel frequently on these trips B sometimes several times a month. They are very knowledgeable on what to buy and have usually planned ahead of time, buying more products like detergents and food and less alcohol than the other groups. "The pros" simply substitute one of their ordinary shopping trips with the trip to Rostock and stock up on the things they can find cheaper there. There is also a sub-group of "the pros" B "the booze-pros", who don’t travel as frequently and focus on buying most or all of their liquor, beer, and wine in Rostock. They are nevertheless knowledgeable about what to buy and even though they don’t frequent Systembolaget [The Swedish state monopoly liquor store.] they know the prices and are able to assess what they perceive as good deals and not.

A second major group consists of "the addicted smuggler" who does not have any other objectives with the trip than to buy cheap alcohol and tobacco. Once again we see two distinct types. On the one hand we have those who go on the trips frequently and who, according to the interviewed manager as well as the media, sell the smuggled goods for a profit back home. On the other hand we have the ones that perhaps are not selling the goods to someone else but who still tries to smuggle as much as possible and is solely focused on buying gods that are subject to restricted import quotas.

The third major group is "the rookies", who go on the trip just to pass time or to get a break form the ordinary. They regard the trip as something fun, a little adventure, but perhaps sees it more like an alternative to going to a city visiting museums than as a substitute for an ordinary shopping trip. "The rookies" have usually not planned what to buy in advance and are not equipped with the right paraphernalia such as bags, boxes, wrapping paper, et cetera. They browse the stores and hope to find good deals.


In this section, we will analyse cross-border shopping through a number of themes derived from the data. The first theme deals with acculturation processes and the ways in which consumers as well as marketers adapt to each other. The second theme highlights the notion of saving money rather than spending money as well as the compulsive dimensions of cross-border shopping. The third theme deals (briefly) with the 'shopping as sacrifice’ motif, drawn from Miller’s (1998) theory of shopping. The fourth theme deals with aspects of rebellious behaviour that is salient to many cross-border shoppers. Finally, the last theme discusses the experience of hassles and nuisances involved in the cross-border shopping trip.


When cross-border shoppers enter the Kaufland mall and the Aldi discount store, they enter a new shopping environment that in several aspects are different from a Swedish shopping mall. Shopping at the Kaufland mall as well as at Aldi is a complicated task compared to everyday shopping back home in Sweden since the German stores offer goods with brand names oftentimes unknown to Swedes. Some brands with an international coverage are the same but less expensive local or regional brands tend to be unknown to the Swedish shoppers. If everyday shopping back home in Sweden oftentimes is habitual it is more difficult to apply the same learned habits as a newcomer to the Kaufland mall. Most of the shoppers who travel to the German mall want to buy goods that are less expensive than in Sweden. Price-comparison is therefore a key issue for many of the travellers who want to be sure not to buy something that could have been bought cheaper back home. However, since the brand names are not the same, consumers are required to find other ways of comparing the value of unknown products. Comparison between unknown German products and Swedish products is furthermore complicated since prices are indicated in German marks. Some of the shoppers therefore have brought their own calculators to facilitate price comparison. The German language is of course also a barrier to some of the shoppers who do not speak German. This makes understanding what a product actually is an even more troublesome endeavour for the shoppers. One shopper explained how a friend of hers had bought a product that turned out to be something totally unexpected.

Frequent traveller: It was my friend, she was here, we were her eone time and she had brought her sister and brother-in-law. Her brother-in-law wanted some of that Samarin (equivalent to Alka Seltzer), it was in this store (Aldi). Well, he came outside to my friend and said: Hey, they have Samarin in the store and it is damn cheap too. So she went in and picked up two packages. When they came home her husband was gonna try it, you know. He was gonna try it but thought it had a strange colour, you know, but he drank it anyway. And you know what it was? When they read on it, it was that thing for a dental plate (laughter). And they spat and they spat they told me; it was unbelievable. But it was the same picture, like that murmuring... So they used it for the toilet instead (laughter).

In the absence of the required cultural (brand) knowledge, cross-border shoppers may use various other aspects to evaluate a product. One shopper mentioned the good deal on whisky that was available at the Aldi store. In this passage, it is apparent that the brand name is of minor importance whereas the product type and the country of origin dilutes the differences that brand names otherwise can evoke.

Connoisseur traveller: Once in a while I’ve bought whisky. It’s called Statesman. Costs about 55 kronor a bottle. You won’t get it for under 200 in Sweden (laughter). Actually, they don’t have Statesman at [System]bolaget but it’s Scottish whisky anyway, whisky is whisky, right?

We also recognised shoppers who had brought shopping lists. Interestingly though was the way in which they described the products noted on the list. One woman who was shopping beer for her son was looking for a specific beer in a white can with a blue sign containing less than 5 % alcohol. She had no idea about the brand but she was sure that she got the right beer since the can indeed was white with a blue sign and had an alcohol content lower than five percent. We also observed some shoppers who used a trial and error strategy to evaluate quality of the products. Comments like, "lets get this one today and if it is not good we can try another one next time" were common among shoppers who were frequent cross-border travellers.



The shopping experience is very much an acculturation process (Pe±aloza 1994) in which the shoppers get acculturated to the particular cross-border/German shopping context. As many shoppers return to the mall several times, they learn which products are worth the effort of carrying back to Sweden. They also learn where to find different products and bring various paraphernalia to facilitate shopping like calculators, special carrying bags, and German coins for the shopping carts. More experienced shoppers served as acculturation agents, e.g., for friends they had brought who were first time travellers. They shared their prior experiences and educated first time travellers by giving them suggestions of where they could find the best deals.

In addition to consumer acculturation in which the travellers became more efficient cross-border shoppers, marketers also had acculturated (cf. Pe±aloza 1999) as a result of the many Swedes visiting the mall. Many features of the shopping centre seem to be directed towards the Swedish travellers. Some of the vendors outside know a few words in Swedish and can manage to sell a bratwurst to Swedes who do not know any foreign languages. Some of the signs inside the shopping centre are written in Swedish, e.g. a sign featuring a Swedish flag and the text "fat ÷l" (draught beer in Swedish). Another sign written in rudimentary Swedish language informed the shoppers that it was no longer possible to return liquor bought in the store, therefore reminding them to think twice before buying too much liquor (see exhibit 2).

Saving Money

As indicated before, the major motive for shoppers travelling to Germany is the search for cheap liquor as well as other products that might be cheaper than in Sweden. Since cross-border shoppers can buy liquor at a substantially lower price in Germany, shoppers regard their spending as a way to save money (Miller 1998). The more shoppers spend on their trip, the more they will save. In his ethnographic study of everyday shopping in North London, Miller found that the experience of saving money through shopping was of profound importance. The notion of saving money is equally important to shoppers travelling to Germany. Even though participants pay 27 Euros for the trip, they estimate that their savings on shopping will compensate for this expenditure. Many of the shoppers we observed appeared to buy goods because they thought the price was a bargain. Several would engage in what we may call rationalisation comparisons, which tend to neglect the quality aspect in the price/quality ratio used for evaluating bargains. Some shoppers tend to compare brands sold in Sweden with lower quality brands sold at Aldi. By making this type of comparison, they could justify the trip with the argument of saving money. One couple claimed to do the trip a couple of times a year to stock up on wine. They talked at length about their knowledge of different brands of wine and how they bought the same brands in Germany as they could buy in Sweden at Systembolaget. When asked what brands they were referring to the husband proudly declared "Rioja!". Later in the store we observed the couple with a shopping cart loaded with very inexpensive wine in milk carton-type boxes. Wine of that quality is generally not stocked by the rather picky Swedish monopoly.

Overall, cross-border shoppers tend to over-emphasise the amount they save by making inconsistent comparisons or by rounding the currency to 4 Swedish kronor when the actual rate is 4,30 Swedish kronor. When consumer goods are priced in a foreign currency it appears that the notion of the actual cost for a good is lost. A good’s indicated price becomes just a number that has little or no correspondence to the currency the consumers normally use for determining if something is expensive or not.

The actual money travellers save on the shopping trip is furthermore diminished by the fact that they buy things they otherwise would not have bought. Some shoppers expressed an urge to buy stuff and fill up their 30-kilo-allowance since the prices were so low. Cross-border shoppers at the Kaufland mall tend therefore to become compulsive buyers who achieve gratification from the buying process itself rather than the consumption of the product (O’Guinn and Faber 1989). The combination of (apparently) lower prices and an allowance to fill up create this kind of compulsive behaviour.

The compulsion, though, is restricted partly by the bus company (30 kilo) and partly by the Swedish customs (1 litre of hard liquor etc.) that reflect the tension between freedom and restriction in shopping (Lehtonen 2000) in this cross-border shopping venue. However, in addition to these external restrictions comes a group pressure from the cross-border community, which also encourages compulsive shopping behaviour. As a cross-border traveller, you are supposed to fill up your allowance or be considered as somewhat strange, getting comments like, "you have to seize the opportunity" and fellow shoppers/travellers would be prompt to ask if they could "borrow" any unused allowance.



Shopping as Sacrifice

A girl in her mid-twenties who we talked to after she was done with the shopping provided us with one striking empirical example of Miller’s (1998) idea about shopping being a sacrifice for significant others. Having bought her full share of what she could take on the bus and more than she was legally allowed to bring home to Sweden (see exhibit 3), she first spoke to us for a while about her decision to be a teetotaller and then told us about her shopping:

Teetotaller traveller: I have bought, I’m gonna use it for entertaining because I don’t drink myself. I’ve bought that stuff for girls you know.

Interviewer: What is that?

Teetotaller traveller: Well, what is it. What’s it called, aperitif, that’s it, isn’t it? And JSgermeister, whisky - Grant’s of course, and then Bacardi, and then I bought five bottles of wine and one champagne. And then I have beer at home too, if someone wants it.

Interviewer: Are you having a party?

Teetotaller traveller: No, but if someone wants it I can offer them.

The girl seemed quite excited about the fact that she would now have liquor at home but did not really seem too excited about the actual trip. It should be noted, however, that some of our informants really talked about the actual bus-trip and shopping as being something fun and pleasurable.


Many of the travellers seemed to draw substantial satisfaction from different ways in which they rebel against the others, i.e. the state and the other consumers who do not go on the trips but patronise Systembolaget in Sweden. It is a related albeit not quite the type of trickster rebellion described by Gabriel and Lang (1995). The rebelliousness generally is turned against the taxation policies, the legal age regulations and the import quotas. The first type of rebellion against the state is buying (legal amounts) of liquor abroad, thus avoiding the state taxes. A common topic for discussion among the travellers is what is considered to be ridiculously high taxes on alcohol in Sweden. They accuse the state of behaving like a chaperone, not letting the citizens decide their own consumption patterns. Being opposed to this type of intervention from the state several expressed their excitement in this kind of protesting behaviour.

Two young boys who were not of legal age to buy alcohol in Sweden exhibited the second type of rebelliousness against state regulations. The Swedish law that gives people the right to drink at restaurants at age 18 but sets the legal age for buying alcohol at Systembolaget at 20 upset them. They took great pride in circumventing these regulations and planned to sell some of their catch of the day to friends who were also suffering from the oppressive governmental regulations.

A third field of rebellion was directed towards the import-quotas. It is regarded as hypocritical bullying from the Swedish state to impose strict import-quotas in what is otherwise known as the open EU market. They are thus not only motivated by bringing liquor home for their own consumption but seem to get an extra kick out of violating the import-quotas. Smuggling hereby becomes a consumer protest in favour of free markets.

Finally, a certain pride in this active rebellious behaviour is expressed in relation to what is considered all the stiff people back in Sweden that are too dull to seize the opportunity to buy cheap liquor in Germany. This creates a sense of community among the travellers since they are all winners on this trip; they are not just putting up with the system as everyone else but are actively doing something.

Much Must He Toil Who Serves the Immortal Go(o)ds

Brown and Reid (1997) have pointed to the actual travelling to the shopping area as being a sensitive part of making a shopping trip a successful endeavour. They refer to a long trip as being the number one antecedent to "transforming even the most amenable, easy-going consumer into a cantankerous, foul-mouthed marketing misanthrope" (Brown and Reid 1997, p. 127). The set-up of this trip, with almost 16 hours of transportation time compared to approximately 2 hours of total shopping time (or approximately 11% shopping time) and several bus loadings and unloadings, would suggest plenty of opportunity for consumers to suffer nervous breakdowns. However, and perhaps not surprisingly since the travellers were aware of the agenda of the trip beforehand (cf. Brown and Reid 1997, p. 132), no resentment was expressed towards spending long hours on a bus. On the contrary, many talked about the time spent on the bus as a nice time for relaxation, taking it easy, chatting with their friends, or even enjoying the scenery.

However, as soon as something indicated a possible delay or if someone was not following the implicit strict script of how to behave on the bus, the mood quickly changed. Tacitly, they seemed to have agreed to put up with the hardship of the long trip but were not willing to stretch this the slightest. The tolerance for the duration seemed higher, the more experienced the travellers were. Another source of distress connected to the travel part of the trip was the risk of coming across rough weather at sea. To limit the risk for this they choose to travel in seasons they thought were "safer":

Expert traveller: and then, I don’t really wanna go in the fall when there are storms eitherIt happened to us once down there, you know. I told her [referring to her co-traveler] when we went here that we were out there for two extra hours on the Baltic sea, we couldn’t dock in Gedser.

Interviewer: One could get seasick.

Expert traveller: Yeah, I didn’t become that, but all the others’ heads turned bluish, bluish-purple (Laughter).

One plausible explanation for the travellers’ willingness to spend the long hours on the bus could be that it was justified by the excitement of the shopping to come; that somehow all the hardship would be paid off by an awesome shopping experience. This did not seem to be true, however. Most talked about the shopping as a tough mission accomplished rather than something pleasantly exciting. This is consistent with Brown and Reid’s reports of their informants claiming that the best part of the trip was when it was over (1997, p. 123).

Another aspect of the trip that seemed to have potential to tip the travellers over the verge of nervous breakdown was communication with the natives. Although some of the vendors had learned a few words in Swedish and were quite proficient in communicating using sign language and scattered English words, many of the travellers seemed to be stressed out over having to deal with the German speaking personnel. One example is the confusion that occurred for one of the travellers when ordering food in the food court and not receiving what she thought she had ordered. She burst out in Swedish to her friends "But hey, this isn’t what I ordered, is it?" .

There were a number of other incidents that caused nervousness among the travellers. Many seemed to be stressed out over the fact that many similar, and sometimes identical, items could be bought at both Kaufland and Aldi. Some used quite elaborate techniques to coordinate their shopping between the two stores. However, since the shopping-time is quite limited it is hard to first compare prices and then shop. One shopper had to run back into the first store to complement the shopping at the last minute and her returning just a few minutes before the bus would leave generated frowns among the other travellers. Furthermore, everybody had to pay attention to the imposed 30-kilo-limit, causing many lively discussions in the stores where travellers were trying to assess the weight of different bottles, cans, and various other types of goods.

One last, but definitely not the least, cause of potential nervous breakdown was passing through the customs coming back into Sweden. For a large part of the travellers the trip would be in vain if the customs officials searched the bus and all the alcohol in excess of the legal limit would be confiscated. As we drove off the ferry and approached the customs there was a very tense feeling in the bus. Tales were told about earlier trips where they had been stopped and all the liquor had been poured out. Some tried to lighten up the spirits by dropping a few one-liners but they fell stone-cold to the ground. This was obviously serious business. When it turned out that the bus was not searched, there was a collective feeling of relief as the bus left the customs and drove off into the night to drop of the travellers at their respective destinations with their precious goods.


What precedes these concluding remarks can best be described as an initial exploration of the plethora of emotions and themes present in consumers’ experiences of this kind of cross-border shopping. All of the evoked themes are worthy of a more lengthy investigation.

For example, one might use this particular border-crossing context to investigate how Pe±aloza’s (1994) consumer acculturation can be adapted to account for temporary acculturation processes of short-term duration. Obviously, as indicated by our research, a different set of acculturation agents would be at stake here. Similarly, the acculturation outcomes are likely to be of a different kind from those evoked by Pe±aloza’s model.

Furthermore, the relation between such acculturation processes and macro-social processes of globalization deserves further investigation. To what extent does cross-border shopping of this, and other types, engender processes of global homogenization, interest in the "authentic Other’, various forms of creolization, and possibly also reactions in the form of searches for authentic local consumption patterns (cf. James 1996)? The existence of a canon of global brands point in one direction, the various local translations of such transnational consumption items into others.

The notion of 'saving money’ could likewise be explored much more deeply, and might be addressed from a number of other angles, combining, e.g., economic psychology and economic anthropology perspectives. The savings motive would also gain from being explored in relation to impact of the cross-border shopping pattern, following the path suggested by Miller (1998) more deeply in a cross-border context. Likewise, the idea of cross-border shopping as sacrifice, facilitating or even making possible a communitarian consumption pattern based on alcoholic drinks (cf. Douglas 1987) in the domestic context deserves more attention.

The rebelliousness-motive, could be explored by setting it in a larger context of consumer resistance, normally investigated in terms of resistance against marketing- or production-related activities (see, e.g. Dobscha 1998; Firat & Dholakia 1998). The theme of resistance against state or legislative behaviours through smuggling would also border on, what has been called the dark side of consumer behaviour, investigating illegal or morally doubtful types of consumer behaviour.

Throughout this text, we have referred to our informants/observed consumers as travellers (or, occasionally shoppers/travellers). However, the tourism aspects of the cross-border shopping trips have been left largely unexplored. Nevertheless, the rather positive reactions to the long and cumbersome bus trip give reasons to believe, that there is indeed an aspect of tourism in these one-day shopping trips to Germany.

The extent to which the cross-border shopping trip have the character of a ritual (Rook 1985) is yet another unexplored opportunity. Our informants/participants definitely demonstrated ritualised behaviour in visiting the same stores and buying the same products each time they travel. For example, it seems like the ritual of border crossing in itself puts consumers in a shopping mood where the shopping of goods becomes a material evidence of their trip to a foreign country. This could be linked to an investigation of the dimension of exclusivity to the shopping experience where consumers feel privileged about being able, and also somewhat obliged to buy goods that people back home are unable to buy.

A final theme to be explored further is the relationship between planned and impulse buying. Contrary to findings by Brown and Reid (1997) and Thompson, Locander, and Pollio (1989; 1990) a successful trip seemed first and foremost to be one where all the things on the shopping list were found at a good price rather than a trip filled with exciting surprises. Most of the shoppers encountered had remarkably little room for spontaneous shopping behaviour and followed a predetermined shopping list, overtly proud of not letting themselves fall for any temptations. Any unused quota (weight or allowance) would predominantly be filled with 'more of the same’. Further research and investigation of our own data is needed to throw light on these risk aversive shopping tourists.


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Anders Bengtsson, Lund University, Sweden
Jacob Ostberg, Lund University, Sweden
Soren Askegaard, SDU Odense University, Denmark


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5 | 2001

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