Shopping in Belgium

As we all know, Belgium is a shopping paradise where you can shop 24/7 (some irony included). The good news is that winter sales have started today; and the third day of the year is reserved for this local tradition (sounds better than: ‘It is strictly forbidden to advertise any sales before’)!

Anyway, many shops prepared for this special event in a rather surprising way: shops closed yesterday around 4.30 pm (!) in order to prepare the sales. Of course this is rather annoying for the customers, but since this is Belgium we should not be surprised… and this is only the tip of the iceberg! To get the full picture about sales and competition principles in Belgium read this excellent article in The Economist:

During the twice-yearly pre-sales blackouts (there are also summer sales) a hundred inspectors from the Belgian economics ministry scour the country for advertisements, window stickers or price tags that even hint at discounts. A Prohibition-style speakeasy culture has sprung up in response. Gambits include putting question-marks on price tags and advertising “friendly prices”. Chic boutiques in Brussels telephone favoured customers or send them “privilege cards”, inviting them to pop in for an early visit. Controls must be “extremely severe” to ensure that the rules stick, explains Robert Geurts of the economics ministry, who glories in the title of director-general for regulation and organisation of the market. Inspectors receive many tips by telephone as rival shopkeepers denounce each other.

If all this sounds fundamentally illiberal, that is because it is.


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5 responses to “Shopping in Belgium

  1. It is really round the bend…

    I think the Scandinavian model for these things is much better – you can basically open when you want to, and discount when you want to, but you’re not allowed to be nasty to your workers. So you can open on Sundays but you pay your workers double, or 1.5x salary for late evenings etc. – the market then does the rest to determine the opening hours.

  2. I wish people would stop conflating pure free market capitalism with liberalism in general. It’s a cheap attempt at playing to knee-jerk reactions.
    So is the mention (in the full article) of whoever the idiot is who thinks the reason things are the way they are is because of a Nazi example.

    The laws exist to stop large multinationals from driving independent stores and smaller chains out of business. It’s a kind of preventative anti-trust measure.
    You can argue about whether or not it’s achieved that goal (I’m inclined to think it has), and about whether the way the laws are enforced is sound, but trying to play to fears of communism and antisemitism is counterproductive.

  3. Another typical Economist article which seems to still somehow become even more right wing than before.

    I echo the comments above, though I would like to add that in the last couple of years in Belgium (and particularly noticeable in Brussels) is the sprouting of 7 ’til 8 mini-markets such as Del Haize Cité and GB Express, and not just in the ‘fashionable’ parts of Brussels.

    There are still plenty of night shops, but I suppose they are catering to different clientel…. Surprisingly, I still see new small grocers shops still setting up, most notably the polish bakeries and convenience stores…

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