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Retailers hope winter sales extension can help avoid disaster

Illustration picture shows the official start of the winter sales, Friday 03 January 2020 in Brussels. (BELGA PHOTO LAURIE DIEFFEMBACQ)
11:51 01/02/2021

31 January should have been the last day of the winter sales. But due to the current coronavirus crisis, the government has extended the sales period by two weeks.

For traders, it provides a glimmer of hope that the extension will allow them to shift the excess stock that is still on the shelves and hangers, because, so far, the January sales have been the worst many have experienced during their time in business.

The SNI, the neutral union for independents, has surveyed traders after the first month of the winter sales and the outlook from those who expressed their opinion is gloomy.

Analysis of the data collected by the SNI shows the first two weeks were slightly better than expected especially during the weekends. During this period, sales fell by "only" 15%. On the other hand, the third week was a disaster for many traders. "Revenues down by almost 40% are not uncommon," some traders told the SNI.

The SNI links this loss of turnover to the arrival of the new variants of Covid-19, specifically the more virulent British variant, and the worrying information given to the public surrounding these. This would have had a major impact on shoppers considering going out and mingling with many hundreds of others in the search for bargains.

While the SNI reiterates the stance of the government that "the shops are perfectly safe in terms of health", this information has not filtered down to the majority of consumers and the images of one or two crowded main shopping streets is not a true representation of the overall situation.

The SNI also considers whether the fear of a possible new stay-at-home period is also weighing on shoppers during the winter sales period. "The consumer realises that, presumably, we are at the door of another lockdown and therefore we do not know how soon all this will come into effect," said Christophe Wambersie, the Wallonia-Brussels secretary-general of the SNI. On the part of the consumer, there could be "an attitude where prudence and saving in relation to their economic situation takes precedence," he said.

According to the SNI, many traders are noticing that the rule of shopping alone is beginning to weigh more and more heavily on customers. "It is essential that the government reviews its policy and allows shopping with at least one other person from your bubble," said the SNI. "Retailers often have to 'police' the customer and this obviously does not promote a happy shopping atmosphere."

Regarding the extension of the winter sales in February, the SNI said: "The reductions are going to be even greater in the coming weeks. Traders absolutely need the cash and to make room for the new collection." The SNI estimates that 40% of sales stock on average remains unsold and is already predicting a "price war, which would be harmful in a sector where margins are already small. Nevertheless, traders hope that customers will take advantage of the last two weeks of sales to do business.

Written by Nick Amies