#163 Amazon’s Stumble in Sweden

A warning at the beginning: This post includes language that some may find offensive. And it might hold some surprises. The first surprise may be that Amazon only recently – during the second half of 2020 – opened a national site in Sweden. In fact, the first one in Europe’s Nordic countries. The second surprise is that a company as professional as Amazon – a company that has all the resources at its disposal that others can only wish for – makes mistakes when entering a new country that are embarrassing and could have easily been avoided. So, what happened? After having had country-specific sites in several European countries, Amazon had decided to get more serious about Sweden, Europe’s 10th largest economy by GDP. Entering the market required significant investments in local logistics infrastructure and, of course, the launch of a dedicated site, Amazon.se – Amazon’s 17th local portal worldwide. The new site allows Swedes to stop ordering from other European Amazon stores and order locally, instead. Naturally, new products had to be added, and translations into Swedish were necessary. Unfortunately, the launch didn’t go as smoothly as planned thanks to a number of glaring mistranslations. And this is where the “R” rated section of this post begins.

To cite a few examples, products that included rapeseed flower were translated into Swedish as “våldtäktsblomma”, using the Swedish word for rape (instead of “rapeseed”); the descriptions of greeting cards and t-shirts with the pictures of a rooster were translated into the Swedish “massiv kuk”, slang words referring to oversized male genitalia; an item branded as “Kitty Cat Hair Brush” became “Fittig katt vit hårborste” (“Vagina Cat”), and another item was listed as “child sex attack t-shirt”; a collection of World War II-era Russian infantry figurines was labeled “Russian Toddlers”, frying pans were referred to as items for women, and a silicone baking mold was described as “suitable for chocolate, feces, goose water, and bread”. In addition to these embarrassing translation mistakes, the site also offered a shower curtain with swastika symbols and – to top it all off – Amazon proudly displayed the Argentinian flag instead of Sweden’s on the country selector.

Amazon blames it all on on automatic translations powered by artificial intelligence. As at the British newspaper The Guardian reported, Amazon thanked its customers for pointing out the mistakes and explained that it was only “day one” for Amazon in Sweden. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is known not to be one who is very forgiving of mistakes and poor performance, so it’s certain that these errors will be fixed soon (and that someone’s head will roll). The memory of the botched start in Sweden will live forever, though.

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