By Marzia De Giuli
MILAN, July 7 (Xinhua) -- The summer sales season that opened in Italy on Saturday appeared scarcely attractive for consumers while the country is struggling amid tax hikes and spending cuts to tackle its debt crisis.
Studies by local associations and analysts showed the sentiment of Italian consumers has turned negative despite a number of shops offering extra 50 to 70 percent off sales from the first day of the discount season.
Only one family out of three was planning to do some shopping in the next weeks with an average spending of some 127 euros (156 U.S. dollars) each, according to consumer association Federconsumatori.
Cristina Perillo and Patricia Frias, two friends working at a banking foundation in Milan, said they did not have any shopping dreams.
"There is nothing special that I am planning to buy. Actually, I had not even realized sales were about to start," Perillo told Xinhua. Her colleague Frias said discounts were only an occasion to reflect upon "what is really important in life."
The mood was also pessimistic among retailers in the Italian northern shopping capital, as they prepared for the season that could see a drop in sales by 20 percent compared to the last year, consumer group Codacons estimated.
"In this period of crisis, consumers only come in when they see a sign reading big discounts outside," said Liana Sollazzo, director of a shop of house items in the heart of Milan.
"But even when they enter the shop, they often do not buy anything. In recent times, we have lost several small clients, and we fear that the ongoing sales season will not be brilliant," she told Xinhua.
"Fortunately we have many foreign clients. Italians are always asking for special prices, but you can feel they are not in the right shopping mood," said the director of a clothing shop in the city center, Giuseppe Ferrara.
On Friday, the emergency government led by Prime Minister Mario Monti approved a decree to slash spending by 26 billion euros (31 million U.S. dollars) over the next three years in a country whose public debt has reached a record high of 1.95 trillion euros (about 2.39 trillion U.S. dollars).
However, many analysts said the cuts were only apparent, while consumers risk to be further burdened by a two-percent increase in Value Added Tax (VAT) next year after they were hit by a series of tough austerity measures over the past few months.
On Thursday, the national statistics agency Istat said over a third of families have cut their spending on food last year.
Meanwhile, fiscal burden was estimated by Italy's largest employer organization Confindustria to account for nearly 55 percent of tax payers' incomes, while household savings, a traditional backbone of the Italian economy, have reached the lowest level since 1995.
"The recent tax hikes have significantly impacted on domestic demand. Now Italians have limited budgets, and started reviewing their spending programs also in the long-term," noted an economist at Milan-based REF Ricerche consultancy firm, Donato Berardi.
If the economy remains stagnant in recession-hit Italy, an unavoidable consequence of this backwards spiral could be a dramatic drop in consumption, he pointed out.