Our View: Sales law should have been scrapped years ago

WE ARE in the middle of a recession. No one knows that better than shopkeepers who rightly steeled themselves for a poor turnover during the Christmas period. They may not have had to contend with the ferocious snows of northern Europe which kept shoppers there huddled at home, but shoppers here have still been uncharacteristically parsimonious.

And in times of recession, a shop owner has few choices. Slashing prices is one of them. During such difficult times giving consumers at least the illusion of a bargain – and in Cyprus it’s rarely more than that – is pretty much the only way of getting them to dig into their pockets.

And it is this brutal fact which makes the objections by POVEK, the small shopkeepers’ union, over many of the larger stores starting their winter sales early particularly perplexing.

Every summer and winter and with boring regularity, POVEK trots out the same refrain: shops should only hold sales during the two designated periods. For winter sales this is from the first Monday in February, and for summer sales from the first Monday in August. Any sales outside these times are illegal, and pose unfair competition to small shop owners, the union argues. The large stores who hold sales at other times are “sucking up shoppers like vacuum cleaners” and behaving “like cowboys” said Stefanos Koursaris, POVEK’s general secretary earlier this week.  The union has called for a massive increase in fines of up to 100,000 euros for shops that break the law.

This is a law which should have been scrapped years ago. It should be left to the free market to decide and to the individual shopkeeper to chose when it is time to drop his prices to suit himself and his customers. Continued regulation of sales bears no reality to how people shop these days, recession or not.

This is not to say POVEK members do not deserve sympathy. Many small shopkeepers are struggling to survive in a market that has changed out of all recognition in just the last ten years or so. Shoppers are now hard pushed to find a single shop on a major street that is not a European chain store outlet. The small, one-off shops have been edged out one by one. And in the new malls, they never had a presence from the outset.

But tenaciously clinging to a law that harks back to a time when the market was a simpler place and it was still possible to regulate competition is not the answer. Add to that the cut-throat reality of the recession, and POVEK’s pleas appear even more out of step than usual.