Feature: Greek retailers in anguish, as consumers prepare for Christmas on tightest budget of recent years

2016-12-20 18:19:54 GMT2016-12-21 02:19:54(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

by Valentini Anagnostopoulou

ATHENS, Dec. 20 (Xinhua) -- In Athens, clear blue skies, festive decoration, Christmas lights, musical happenings and extended holiday season shopping hours have lured thousands of people to the commercial center of the city.

However, so far, their strolls have been translating more to window-shopping and market-research than actual sales, alarming Greek store owners who traditionally see in December a last hope for better earnings.

"The Christmas market is very important for us. Many businesses -- especially in retail -- depend on the turnover of these 10-15 days," President of the Hellenic Confederation of Commerce and Entrepreneurship (ESEE) Vasilis Korkidis told Xinhua in a recent interview.

"The majority of Greek retail businesses produce 25 percent of their annual turnover during these days," he stressed.

According to ESEE, December's turnout has shrunk by 38 percent since the beginning of the crisis in 2009, dropping from 6.5 billion euros (6.75 billion U.S. dollars) to 4 billion in 2015, while this year there is expected to be a 2.5 percent decline compared to December 2015.

"Shops cannot do business, unless there is money in people's pockets," Pavlos Politakis, who has been a clothing merchant for the last 30 years, told Xinhua.

According to Deloitte's Xmas Survey 2016, Greeks do cite heavy taxation on their income as the primary reason they plan to spend less this Christmas.

The second reason is their conviction that the economic crisis will continue and/or deteriorate in the future.

In fact, Greeks responded by 87 percent that they are pessimistic about the country's economy and only 24 percent of them expect their spending power to improve in 2017.

"The one part is bad consumer psychology and the other part is lack of money. If you put these two together, you have a devastating mixture," merchant Dimitris Tsaklas highlighted.

"When you have other expenses, like the rent, the electricity and water bill or the mobile phone that I need as an elderly person, all these expenses don't allow me to buy something for my children and grandchildren or for a friend who also needs it," explained Manolis Rentas, whose pension was cut down by approximately 30 percent in six years.

In the run-up to Christmas, Greeks will try to celebrate on the tightest holiday budget of recent years.

As Deloitte's survey has found, each Greek household intends to spend at Christmas 438 euros on average, 4.2 percent less that 2015, while the European average stands at 513 euros. Of this money, 156 euros are going to be spent on food and beverage, 128 on gifts, 86 on travel and 69 on entertainment.

"In previous years, I would buy presents for relatives, siblings, our parents... Now [I buy gifts] only for my wife and my kid and that's about it," 40-year-old Stavros, who is a private sector employee, told Xinhua.

As he said, his Christmas spending habits have changed drastically over the last years.

Now, merchants' hopes for a boost in sales rest on the Christmas bonus that employees are expected to receive by December 21 and the much-debated extra benefit that Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras recently announced to be paid to approximately 1.6 million low-income retirees.

"Over the last days, we see more people holding shopping bags. With the payment of the Christmas bonus, we expect that these shopping bags will multiply and we hope that the extra benefit to pensioners will also boost the market," Korkidis expressed his optimism. (1 euro = 1.04 U.S. dollars)