With only four weeks left to Christmas, Germany celebrated a modest first shopping weekend of the holiday season. Europeans as a whole will be more stingy this year, and German retailers especially pessimistic.
Germans will be stingier this holiday season than the year before.
The first holiday shopping weekend in the United States ended with a Florida woman hospitalized after being knocked unconscious by a mob rushing to get a $29 DVD player.
The fist holiday shopping weekend in Germany by constrast was decidedly quieter, with more than half of Germany’s retailers reporting better business than last year, according to a weekend survey by the German Retailer’s Association.
“We were pretty full, but not to the point where the health of our customers was ever in danger,” Detlef Steffens, the manager of a Berlin Kaufhof department store, told Deutsche Welle.
Saving for a rainy day
The differences in holiday shopping behavior on both sides of the ponds will likely divide along the same demarcation lines as in the years before. Americans will increase spending over last year, according to initial figures. Europeans, and especially Germans, will spend less.
“The confidence that the economy will prosper and that it will go up again is apparently missing,” the president of the retailer’s association, Hermann Franzen said in a recent interview. “People are saving more for a rainy day, and don’t want to spend the money:”
Franzen announced that the modest goal of German retailers this season was to stop sales from sliding deeper into the red. The first shopping weekend of the season gave hope that exactly that could happen this year.
The spending bug of the Irish
Longer shopping hours on Saturday combined with a rising consumer confidence produced a successful kick-off, according to German stores and retailer associations. Electronics, chocolate and toys disappeared from the shelves in greater numbers than last year. The German Consumer Research Groups estimates sales will increase 1 percent in the last two months of the year.
That kind of optimism is needed on the heels of a Europe-wide study by Deloitte & Touche that Europeans will spend less this holiday season than the year before. Miserable consumer confidence in France, where 66 percent of those surveyed feel the country is in a recession, and in Belgium mean Europeans will fork over less money this season.
Germans will spend €567, €139 below the European average, according to Deloitte & Touche. The Irish, spurred on by a bustling economy, are set to spend more than €1,000 during the holiday season this year.
Churches put the brake on holiday spending
If German retailers see plus signs it’s likely to be later in the month. The country’s churches traditionally pressure stores not to decorate or kick-off Christmas sales too soon, as in the United States.
“We’re under pressure not to put out the Christmas lights too early,” said Steffens, the Kaufhof manager. “The entire atmosphere is different.”
Efforts by stores like Kaufhof to get Berlin government to allow shopping on the four Sundays this year before Christmas failed under a torrent of criticism. Kaufhof, a traditional foe of the German law that forbids shops to open on Sunday, has officially complained to the country’s highest court in the hope that a positive decision will get German parliament to look at allowing Sunday shopping hours in the future.
For now, the chain, like the rest of German shopping institutions is hoping a planned government tax break next year will encourage Germans to follow America’s lead and spend – without seriously injuring anyone.