ECONOMY

Effect of extra shopping hours

The Greek trade world is trying to come to terms with the new shop opening hours. Apart from the benefits, they may well hide some risks (e.g. a rise in operational costs), which, combined with the specific conditions in each commercial sector, dictate a rather cautious approach, at least for now. Measuring the pros and cons of this reform, which according to Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas should have been bolder, definitely cannot be made from now. Yet three months after its application, a clear benefit has been the extension of previously limited shopping hours in some regional areas, with all the effects this may have. Consumers, on the other hand, who with their behavior will determine the enterprises’ decisions, appear positive. «Shopping hours are a way of life and do not change overnight,» says the president of the National Confederation of Greek Commerce (ESEE), Dimitris Armenakis, clarifying that «few companies have taken advantage of the full range of shopping hours.» «We have not had any dramatic changes,» he adds, «as today, apart from the closing time [9 p.m., Monday to Friday] which has been adopted, the degree of expansion of opening hours into the afternoon or on Saturdays is close to zero. The markets of Patras and Thessaly are an exception; they have increased their opening hours as they had lagged in this. They had 40 hours per week and now have 48.» On the issue of extending opening hours by two on Saturdays, Armenakis believes it has been used minimally, saying that «any non-food enterprises to have extended opening hours have seen no good results.» In supermarkets, he explains, the situation is different, as «no matter how many hours they are open, there will always be some consumer coming in.» Armenakis thinks it important that the new regulation allow anyone to exhaust the shopping hours framework, valid for the whole country. He says it is impossible for anybody to tell with real and exact data whether the extension has created new jobs: «We do not really know whether new jobs are exclusively down to the new shopping hours. Maybe after one year we will have a taste of that.» The new shopping hours, however, have relieved Plaisio computers from a major headache. All its stores across Greece now open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Friday. «In some areas of the country, we had had problems and our wish had been to have the same opening hours across Greece,» says the company’s president, Giorgos Gherardos. «After the application of the new law, we have extended our opening hours and, though we have not particularly advertised it, we have had positive indications from consumers,» he notes. Nevertheless, stretching opening hours on Saturdays, despite being the wish of the company’s consumers, makes Gherardos particularly wary. «Our people do not want it, so we are not thinking about it. This is a decision for which we want to have the consent of our employees. If demand allows it in the future, we may gradually proceed to hire staff. At any rate, I believe that within three months, we will have decided what to do, as, don’t forget, we are expecting the arrival of foreign competitors too.» On Saturdays the vast majority of Plaisio computer stores close at 4.30 p.m., only three close at 6 p.m. and just one closes at 8 p.m., following the opening hours of The Mall Athens, where it operates. Gherardos does not consider that the new regulation favors the big corporations over smaller ones in the market. «I do not think competition is a matter of size. The phrase ‘The big fish eats the small fish’ has been substituted by ‘The quick one eats the slow one.’ It is a question of abilities and not size. After all, small companies rely on personal relationships with customers and these things do not change easily.» Ikea is among the firms where the new rules had immediate and positive effects. It has only one store in Athens, by the airport, and one in Thessaloniki. With the old opening hours it could not serve all its consumers. «This has helped Ikea. With the new shopping hours, not only do more people come, but they are more evenly spread out over the day,» says Ikea’s director general in Greece, Vassilis Goudes. He adds that the new hours serve consumers substantially as, in his view, «it has expanded their free time by 30 percent.» Ikea’s preparation for the new rules began in August, creating 225 jobs. Few things have changed in supermarkets. «In essence, hours have increased from 75 to 77,» says MyMarket’s CEO, Aristotelis Panteliadis. «We note that a small portion of Friday’s shoppers have moved to Saturday, while turnover in the additional two hours on Saturdays is smaller compared with other times,» he testifies. Given all that, Panteliadis says his chain does not need to hire new staff. Patrick Salomon, CEO of Fnac, a new entry into Greek market, recently stated that the existing opening hours satisfy his company, dubbing them quite extended. The first Fnac multistore will follow the hours of The Mall Athens in Maroussi, which opens Nov. 25.