by Alexia Vlachou
ATHENS, Jan. 19 (Xinhua) -- Greek retail stores opened on Sunday for the first time during winter sales to boost consumption, but only with tepid signs for revenues.
People poured into main shopping streets in central Athens and other major cities, peered window displays, but few were shopping despite 50 and 60 percent discounts.
For decades, stores in Greece remained closed on Sundays, except for the two working Sundays before Christmas and New Year Eve holidays.
In November, the government introduced a pilot program to boost competitiveness and spur consumer spending in the recession-hit economy. Now Greeks are able to shop at stores seven Sundays during the year.
"It is very pleasant to see so many people out in the streets having fun and shopping. I think shop owners will also be content with the outcome, since there is traffic in their stores," said Elisavet Lazaratou, who was enjoying Sunday shopping with her husband in Ermou street near the parliament.
Anna Kotzampasi, an owner of a fashion boutique near Syntagma square, believes this program will help the market.
"If this happens once a month, for me it is not an issue. It is good for my profit. But, no more than that, as it is very tiring," she told Xinhua.
"In my opinion, this is an option for the people who cannot go shopping all the other days. In addition, on Sundays they hung out at coffee shops and eateries anyway, why not combine their shopping also?" she added.
But according to first estimates, the numbers were not as expected and customers were quite reserved with their purchases during the premiere of Sunday shopping for 2014.
"For another time, Sunday revenue did not make an impression, as it didn't make a difference from the previous days. For their personal purchases, customers wait to get paid first from their work or get their pension at the end of the month and then shop," Vassilis Korkidis, President of the National Confederation of Hellenic Commerce (ESEE), said.
The first week of winter sales, which began on Monday and last until the end of February, was at the same level as last year with encouraging signs of improvement. Although it's very soon to make conclusions, Korkidis added.
Due to prolonged insecurity after six years of recession despite promising indexes for the Greek economy, consumers are cautious. Retailers expect turnover to go down from the same period last year.
Estimates from the ESEE put the expected turnover in this sales window at 5 billion euros (6.85 billion U.S. dollars), down from 5.5 billion euros in 2013.
Workers unions, opposing to the program for open stores on Sunday, protested with a 24-hour strike and small rallies were held nationwide.
According to the Federation of Private Employees, the majority of the stores that opened on previous Sundays didn't even manage to cover their basic operating costs.
"I believe that it is unacceptable for an employee who works six days a week, has been hit by salary cuts and suffers from such fatigue all day, to have to work extra on Sunday. They also need to rest, they have to get a day off and of course to get paid overtime," Elsa Zacharaki told Xinhua. (1 euro = 1.37 U.S. dollars)