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Retailers fear stricter corona rules: empty shopping streets - and chaos in the supermarket


Long queues in front of the grocery stores - and pre-Christmas dreariness in the city centers: This is what the economy fears because of the tightened shutdown. What is the truth of the dealers' complaints?

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Berlin Alexanderplatz: Losers are many downtown retailers

Photo: Michael Kappeler / dpa

Berlin's Alexanderplatz exudes an almost eerie calm on this cloudy day at the end of November.

A young woman crosses her path, her cell phone like a tablet in front of her mouth, her gaze focused on an imaginary point in the distance, the noisy singing of a small band wafting over from the other side.

At the entrance to a shopping center, a couple of workers are screwing golden-painted plastic ornaments onto a frame that is supposed to give the shopping mall a festive face: the sad backdrop of a festival that this year is very different from what most are used to: Christmas under Corona conditions .

Even the merchants have little reason to celebrate.

Instead of anticipation, there is sadness this time.

Because the restrictions that have been in place since the beginning of November are not working as the government had hoped, they will be extended until at least December 20 - and in some cases even tightened.

Yawning emptiness in the inner cities

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“Alexa” mall next to Alexanderplatz: better online

Photo: Michael Kröger / DER SPIEGEL

And although it hits other industries much harder, this time it is retail that feels particularly disadvantaged.

"The big losers are many inner-city retailers, who are losing customers and sales under the Corona conditions," complained the chief executive of the German Trade Association, Stefan Genth, on Thursday.

Edeka boss Markus Mosa warned that the grocery trade could “not meet the high demand, especially during the Christmas season” under these conditions.

Rewe boss Lionel Souque even fears "chaotic situations in front of the supermarkets".

The reason for concern are the regulations that Chancellor Angela Merkel and the state minister-presidents decided on Wednesday.

Accordingly, the retailers do not have to lock up, such as restaurants, theaters or fitness studios.

But shops with more than 800 square meters will be able to let significantly fewer customers into the house from December 1st than before.

This affects practically all department stores and furniture stores, but also electronics stores and most supermarkets and discounters.

What this means for many retailers can only be assessed if you know how bad business has been in some cases recently.

According to surveys by the market research institute Hystreet, the number of pedestrians in the otherwise overcrowded inner cities of Munich, Berlin, Cologne and Hamburg has fallen by more than half compared to November of the previous year.

"The numbers have stabilized," says Hystreet managing director Julian Aengenfoort.

"But they are at a very low level."

Trade calls for state aid

From the point of view of the corona fighters, this is of course a great success on the one hand, because it is precisely about reducing the number of social contacts in order to stop the spread of the virus.

The side effects are clearly felt by the owners of the shops in the pedestrian zones and shopping streets: In the first three weeks of the partial lockdown, sales compared to the same month last year fell by an average of 30 percent, says HDE boss Genth.

The demand for fashion and shoes shrank even more.

The whole hope of the merchants therefore rested on the annual special boom in the run-up to Christmas, but now it threatens to break away.

The situation cannot be mastered without government support, says Genth.

Perhaps the merchants hope that federal aid will also offset the financial consequences of some failures for which they are responsible.

Because the flight of customers from the inner cities is not a phenomenon that the industry has only been dealing with since the first shutdown.

The number of those who prefer to browse the Internet for cheap offers from the comfort of their home has been growing for years.

The service is often better than in the store, and what you don't like can be returned free of charge - and somewhere in the world there is always a dealer who offers the coveted item a few euros cheaper.

The trade association now fears that, of all things, more sales will migrate to the Internet during the important Christmas business - at the expense of fashion and shoe stores, perfumeries, watch, jewelry and toy shops in the city centers.

"Consumers will buy Christmas presents even in times of Corona," explains Genth.

"Under the conditions of the partial lockdown, however, they will probably prefer to do their shopping online in many industries." 

Neglect of online trading takes revenge

Erik Maier, junior professor at the Leipzig Graduate School of Management, doubts that the impending stricter corona rules will lead to long queues in front of the shops even in the pre-Christmas economy, as some black painters think.

»In pre-Corona times, Christmas markets and cinemas attracted people to the city.

Cafés and restaurants invited people to linger, ”explains the marketing expert.

For many, such diversions are at least as important as shopping itself.

Department stores or malls therefore currently have little reason to fear the tightening of the corona rules, but rather whether enough customers will come to the stores at all.

"If all you have left is shopping without the experience, then you only buy what you really need," explains Maier.

In this discipline, however, the Internet can hardly be beaten.

Retailers who have built up a foothold in online trading at some point are also much more relaxed about the tightening of the corona.

"Our branches have an average of 2,400 square meters and are therefore affected by the restrictions," explains a spokesman for the electronics chain MediaMarktSaturn: "That's not great, but we can handle it." The expansion of the digital business has increased sales by 54 percent in the final quarter of the previous year more than offset the decline in branch business.

Food supermarkets with worries

The large food supermarkets, however, have much more reason to protest.

Although they are doing good business, they fear that the disruptions of the shutdown will repeat themselves again in spring.

In March, consumers suddenly became concerned that the food supply might also be at risk.

Long queues formed, first in front of the cash registers, then in front of the shops.

Individual products were hard to come by for weeks.

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Mall in Berlin: Photo wallpapers replace the shops

Photo: Michael Kröger / DER SPIEGEL

In this case, online trading was only able to help to a limited extent.

Because more than with other product groups, the eye and the sense of touch play a decisive role when buying food.

It's not just about the question "apple or pear?" But "which apple, which pear?"

Before holidays like Christmas, the rush was always particularly large - and this time there is correspondingly great concern that the weekly shopping will end in total chaos.

"If only 40 instead of 100 people are allowed to shop at the same time in a supermarket with 1,000 square meters of sales area, I fear endless queues before Christmas," explained Rewe boss Souque - and pointed out in the same breath that the programmed crowd in front of the shops tended to The spread of the infection is likely to contribute to its containment.

At least the state government of North Rhine-Westphalia initially saw an alternative to allowing sales during the Advent Sundays.

The protest of the churches against such unchristian behavior was this time much less effective than that of the service union Ver.di.

That is because on Tuesday obtained an urgent decision by the Higher Administrative Court in Münster against the opening of the store - to protect the overburdened employees.

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Source: spiegel

All business articles on 2020-11-28

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