The Flemish government is moving in favour of postponing the January sales in 2021, according to the region’s economy minister Hilde Crevits (CD&V).
Under the latest set of regulations for dealing with the Covid-19 epidemic in Belgium, which were published today, non-essential shops will be able to open again from Tuesday, just in time for Sinterklaas and later Christmas.
Traditionally, the official sales period in January stars on the first opening day of the New Year, at which time the rules on shopping will still be as strict as ever: shopping alone, maximum of 30 minutes in any store, social distancing and marked routes with barriers and stewards in busy shopping streets.
Last July, the official summer sales period was postponed by one month in the hope of an improvement in the sanitary situation in the country. In fact the opposite happened, and the Covid-19 figures started climbing again, and the existing regulations were tightened up.
The result was “disappointing,” according to the retail federation Comeos, with takings down by 40% in the first two weeks compared to 2019. The obligation to shop alone was seen as the biggest disincentive.
“Having to shop individually played a big role in reducing sales and customer numbers,”the federation said at the time. “Couples cannot come in together, even if the store is empty. Many just give up on the idea.”
Another problem affecting earnings was that the spring lockdown had left shops with large amounts of stock, forcing them to offer deep discounts to clear the shelves.
“We had a meeting with the sector this week and opinions about the sales period were divided fifty-fifty,” Crevits told the VRT today.
“I have the feeling that the big chains don’t want an extension and the smaller stores do. I think we are leaning towards a postponement, but the decision has to be taken at federal level.”
And that decision has to come soon, she said, to offer the struggling retail industry some semblance of certainty.
“Don’t go waiting another 14 days to come to a decision,” she said.
The next meeting of the Consultative Committee to review the rules, however, is not scheduled until 15 January, when normally the sales would have been under way for two weeks.