This year’s winter sales, despite a two-week extension, was the worst ever, according to the retail federation Comeos. The verdict was backed by Mode Unie, which represents clothes shops.
According to the industry figures, clothes sales were down this sales period by 25-30% compared to the winter sales last year.
Sales periods are regulated by law in Belgium to four weeks in January and four weeks in July. This year, exceptionally, the January period was extended by two weeks into February, ending this weekend.
Last January’s sales were unaffected by the coronavirus, which at that time was still a distant menace. The summer sales, however, were postponed to August, and subject to restrictions. Those continued this winter.
Shopping with friends, or fun-shopping, was not allowed, which retailers saw as the most damaging restriction. Numbers in shops at any one time were restricted (something all shops have had to put up with since the first lockdown) and shopping time was limited (in theory) to half an hour, although it is doubtful whether many stores were equipping staff with stop-watches.
At the same time, all horeca establishment – bars and cafes, essentially – were closed, which together with a ban on fun-shopping turned the sales into a chore rather than an outing, Comeos explained.
Particularly hard-hit were sales of men’s clothing. The reason: men shopping for clothes in the sales are typically accompanied by their significant other, and if that’s not possible, they’d rather not bother.
The extension of the sales period to this weekend was at least a small mercy, Comeos said.
“The exceptional extension of the sales was seen as positive because it allowed the retailers to sell off their stock,” said Kathy Bergen, sector manager for fashion at Comeos.
“February is a particularly calm month in normal years, but we have been able to counter that a bit this year.”
Nevertheless, according to Mode Unie, 78% of clothes shops have seen their financial situation get worse since Covid-19, and 55% have had to resort to private financing to keep their business open. The industry has called on the government for support measures, such as a reduction in the VAT they have to pay.