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Business

Longer Shopping Hours a Boon for German Stores

Germany’s recently liberalized store opening law allows shops to remain open until 8 p.m. Saturdays has brought with it more than hassle-free shopping. It's also boosted sales.

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Nice and stress-free -- the new face of German shopping.

It’s summer in Germany, the evenings are warm and long and life has taken on a relaxed air. Especially since June.

That’s when the German parliament passed a new law allowing stores to stay open longer on Saturdays (till 8 p.m.), spelling an end to the nightmarish Saturday afternoon rush to buy weekend groceries before 4 p.m.

Germany’s limited shopping hours, among the most restrictive in the industrialized world, have long been criticized by foreigners for making the shopping experience too stressful. Even domestic retail and industry associations have opined that stringent regulations choke consumer spending and contribute towards the general economic downturn.

First set in stone in 1956, the law dictating Germany's restrictive shopping hours was last reformed in the 1990s, when lawmakers extended weekday shopping to 8 p.m. Backed by retail associations and industry and strongly opposed by the unions, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s Social-Democrat-Green coalition finally pushed through the amendments in June.

Department chains rake in profits

Less than one month later, the move has already begun to pay off.

Retail stores, especially in downtown districts, have begun to profit from the new Saturday opening hours. Last week Kaufhof Warenhäuser AG, one of the country’s largest department store chains, registered a marked increase in sales. A spokesman cited the greater customer turnout on Saturdays as the reason.

Competing retailer KarstadtQuelle also reported an overall jump in business on Saturdays with a profit increase in the "high two-digit region." However, most department chain stores say it’s too early to release official figures on their profits.

KarstadtQuelle spokesman Elmar Kratz told Deutsche Welle that customers made use of the new opportunity to shop beyond the earlier limit of 4 p.m. and new customers actually poured in late evening. He however didn’t want to risk concluding the new shopping hours had spurred spending-wary Germans to splurge.

Relaxed and leisurely shopping

But Kratz added the atmosphere was distinctly more relaxed and hassle-free. "The stores are all reporting the same: the shopping experience is clearly more relaxed, the customers come without time pressures. After all, before June when shops closed at 4 p.m., the customers had to be forced out of the shops and at the time they argued ‘I have time now, I want to shop and you’re closing the shop,’" he said.

Kratz said customers making use of the longer opening hours mainly consisted of families. Clothing were the fastest-selling items -- including summer apparel, swimwear and children’s fashions.

Less enthusiasm in southern states

But retail associations have reported that not all Germans are making use of the "shop longer Saturdays."

According to the German Retailers' Association (HDE) shoppers enthusiastically spilled out onto the sidewalks of cities such as Düsseldorf, Kiel, Hamburg and Leipzig to shop in the weeks since the "shop till you drop Saturdays" were introduced. But the atmosphere has been more subdued in southern Germany. Shopping Meccas such as Munich and Stuttgart remained relatively calm and immune from the shopping frenzy apparent in other parts of the country on Saturdays.

The same disinterest is also evident in smaller retail shops that still close early despite the opportunity to stay open longer. Karin Wiethege, who works in a small specialty shop selling exclusive gift items such as soap and perfumes from the French region of Provence on the outskirts of Bonn, told Deutsche Welle she couldn't possibly remain in the shop till 8 p.m.

Besides, she said, she understood the displeasure of her colleagues regarding longer working hours. "Sure, I understand that. I would also protest. If this shop here also remained open till 8 p.m., I would say: ‘I’m not coming anymore. My family is too important to me for that."

No new jobs

But creating new jobs to avoid disgruntled employees doesn't seem to have been the antidote so far. Elmar Kratz of KarstadtQuelle said further jobs weren’t planned. "We’re trying to work it out so that employees’ work routines are adjusted to the new timings. When there are many customers, there are more employees, when there are less customers, naturally there are less employees – that’s how we’ve regulated it to start with."

But while the industry might still be waiting for the expected economic benefits and jobs to materialize from the extended shop opening hours, there’s no denying that shopping in Germany actually means no more nerve-jangling, shove-jostle-wait matches for groceries on Saturday afternoons.

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