This Europe: Germany's traditional sales must end now

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The Independent Online

German bargain-hunters rushed out yesterday to what could be the country's last official "End of Summer Season Sale".

German bargain-hunters rushed out yesterday to what could be the country's last official "End of Summer Season Sale".

For the past 100 years, German retailers have been allowed to hold sales only twice a year.

The clearly labelled Sommerschlussverkauf (SSV) - End of Summer Season Sale - and the Winterschlussverkauf (WSV), or End of Winter Season Sale, traditionally take place over two fixed fortnights.

But now the German government has announced that it will allow shops to have sales whenever they want, despite the nation's largest retailers' association calling for the status quo to remain. The deregulation of sales is just one of the recent changes made by Gerhard Schröder, the German Chancellor, to try to jump-start the country's sluggish economy.

A law came into effect last month allowing shops to open for four extra hours on Saturdays, until 8pm. Mr Schröder also unveiled wide-ranging tax cuts last month. In addition to tax breaks for medium-sized businesses, from January 2004 most Germans will be better off by about 10 per cent. The government hopes the moves will encourage Germans to spend more freely. Longer sales periods may work because Germans do have a reputation as determined bargain hunters.

However, they are also reluctant to spend money they do not have, with the majority of purchases still made in cash. Only a quarter of the population owns a credit card and much of this so-called credit works on the basis that the balance on the card is paid off in full each month.

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