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Retailers not optimistic as January sales begin
Belgium's January sales began on Monday, with retailers generally pessimistic due to the coronavirus restrictions and reduced consumer spending power.
The sales normally begin on the first Saturday in January, but were delayed by two days to avoid a sudden rush on the stores.
The sales - in January and the summer - are the only time of the year when shops can legally sell goods at a loss. The aim is to liquidate excess stock and generate much-needed cashflow.
Discounts tend to start at 30% - although some stores are going in at -50% from day one in a bid to clear excess stock.
The coronavirus restrictions on shopping still apply during the January sales, including a 30-minute time limit per store. Shopping must be done alone, unless accompanying a child or vulnerable person.
Going shopping with someone else is possible "in very exceptional circumstances" including "the purchase of bulky goods for which an in-depth discussion is necessary due to the impact on the household" - for example, buying the a new kitchen, which must be done by appointment.
"The sales should be a time for fun shopping," said a spokesman for the SNI self-employed trade union. "Giving people the opportunity to go shopping with someone else would have been healthy."
Retailers are not holding out much hope for the coming weeks. Pierre-Frédérique Nyst, from the UCM trade union, said: "When customers tell you that they don't need new clothes because they are working from home, it's difficult for a retailer to hear."
One trader on Rue Neuve, who sells leather goods, told RTBF: "I want to approach these sales in a positive way, and tell myself that we are going to make up for everything we have lost. But I know that we will never catch up."
According to an SNI poll, 75% of retailers fear the authorities could order the closure of "non-essential" stores in the coming weeks, before the sales end on 31 January.
One retail chain that will not be taking part in the sales - for the first time in 80 years - is second-hand charity store Les Petits Riens.
The non-profit organisation has seen revenues decline by €5 million in the past year due to the coronavirus crisis. Les Petits Riens generates 80% of its income from charity shops, which were not considered "essential" during the coronavirus shutdown.
A spokesman for the charity said: "We are implementing a policy of low prices throughout the year. We prefer to have this concept of fair prices all year round."
Photo: Laurie Dieffembacq/Belga