‘Bare minimum’: Belgian shops want to open by appointment
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‘Bare minimum’: Belgian shops want to open by appointment

Credit: Belga

Belgium’s different federations for retail, entrepreneurs and traders are demanding that the authorities look at options to make shopping by appointment possible in December, ahead of the Consultative Committee on Friday.

Even though the current lockdown measures are set to remain in force until 13 December, the trade federations are hoping for a cautious relaxation of the rules for shops from this week’s Consultative Committee, as non-essential shops have had to keep their doors closed for almost four weeks now.

To avoid crowds in shopping streets, stores are proposing a way to shop by appointment. Clients can then book a time slot – online or by phone – and do their shopping while being able to keep the necessary social distance, in a calm shop.

“This should be the bare minimum to be announced on Friday,” said Danny Van Assche of entrepreneurs’ organisation Unizo. “December is the most important month of the year for shops.”

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However, even with the distance sales and pick-up possibilities, they do not achieve the turnover and services they normally achieve, according to him. “That is why something has to be done quickly.”

Isolde Delanghe of the federation of fashion shops ModeUnie agrees. “Normally in December, the fashion trade runs a good 10% of its annual turnover.”

“We have already lost the good period of the autumn holidays,” she told Het Nieuwsblad. “If we were to lose another part of December, it would be very difficult.”

On top of that, shopping in several neighbouring countries is still possible in the short term, or will be possible again soon, according to both federations. “The pressure is enormous. We see that shops in neighbouring countries are all opening,” Van Assche said.

Foreign businesses are also taking advantage of the fact that the Belgian stores are closed. “There are furniture shops, for example, that call on Flemish customers to go and buy in the Netherlands,” he added.

In separate press releases, both sector federations for furniture trade, BouwUnie and Navem, stated that people really need to see their products in person, which is perfectly possible by appointment.

“Hardly anyone buys a kitchen or new bathroom online,” Jean-Pierre Waeytens of BouwUnie said. “You want to look at examples in a showroom, which is not allowed at the moment. These are often major investments that customers are not willing or able to place online just like that.”

“Click & collect is simply not enough,” Tom Steenhoudt of Navem said. “Consumers want to see, feel and try furniture before deciding.”

The option to shop by appointment should be introduced as soon as possibe, preferably as early as 1 December, all sector federations agree. “If we are not allowed to open until 14 December, we fear a rush such as the one we saw when the stricter measures were announced,” Delanghe of ModeUnie said.

“That would be a week and a half before Christmas, meaning that a lot of people will still want to secure presents,” she said. “If we are allowed to open on 1 December, the consumers will be spread out, and give everyone the chance to buy gifts much more spaced out.”

Federal Minister of the Self-Employed, David Clarinval, stated in the House Economics Committee that the reopening of shops, bars and restaurants would be “seriously” considered on Friday.

According to biostatistician Geert Molenberghs, it is understandable that shops want to reopen now that the figures are down, especially in this festive season, but caution is needed.

“The figures are falling, but there is a very big difference with the opening of the shops in May, when there were about 100 cases a day,” he told VRT.

While Molenberghs is not in favour of a reopening, he insists on “order and organisation” if the stores will be allowed to reopen anyway.

“We have to avoid crowding, and packed trams and buses, like that shopping weekend before the lockdown went into force,” he said. “To do that, an initiative like ‘shopping by appointment’ can better streamline things.”

However, reopening as early as December is a risk, according to him. “The Consultative Committee must make that assessment. But you have to be aware that if you wait a little longer, you have a better guarantee not to have to close it again afterwards,” Molenberghs said.

“Re-opening too quickly is a risk. A closure such as this one has to be the last one, between now and the arrival of the vaccine,” he added.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times

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