Shops in Germany


Germany has four times as much shopping space per person as the UK but that does not make it a shoppers paradise. Restrictions on operating practice and opening hours combine with poor standards of customer service to make shopping sometimes seem far from a leisure pursuit.

When I first came to Germany the law required all shops to close on Saturday afternoons and at six each evening. The only exceptions were to allow late opening on Thursdays until eight thirty and, on the first Saturday of the month until six.

Since then things have been changed and now shops are allowed to open from eight until eight on weekdays and Saturdays. However, many shops chose to ignore the new hours and others adjusted their hours rather than extend them. For example, small shops often chose to open two hours later in the morning in order to close at the new time in the evening. Other shops extended their hours but kept the same staff and just spread then a little thinner. One result is that I often find myself walking out of department stores after standing by an empty till for five minutes waiting for an assistant.

Shops are allowed to open for longer in places associated with travel. This seems to mean airports, railway stations and garages. Big railway stations and garages certainly do good trade out of normal German shopping hours. However, it is not actually legal to use these shops unless you are actually travelling. So, for example, if I walk to the nearby garage to buy a bottle of Coca Cola on a Sunday morning, I am breaking the law! I am happy to report that, as far as Iknow, this law does not get enforced.

Another amusing restriction is that shops are not allowed to use unfair sales incentives to make people buy things that they do not want. This law seems to assume that German shoppers are uniquely stupid and it really is bizarre. For example, one clothing company was recently selling a garment with a lifetime guarantee. The German courts ruled that this was not permitted. So they have had to introduce a restricted guarantee just for the German market.

If these laws and restrictions are not enough German shops have a reputation for providing the worst customer service in the Western world. If you want an example of this, just check out my experience at World of Music in Munich. Another perspective on the German way of dealing with customer questions is this email exchange between jpoc and Delwi GmbH an online computer shop that lists items on ebay.de.

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