Shopping: Here’s how the pandemic has hit German spending habits

Consumers in Germany have been spending a lot less during the pandemic, new research has confirmed - with clothing shops hit particularly hard.

Shopping: Here's how the pandemic has hit German spending habits
People shopping in Cologne in March 2021. Photo: DPA

Many shops and indoor dining in restaurants have been closed for months, and lots of people have been working from home – so it’s perhaps not a huge surprise that the restrictions put in place to stem the spread of Covid-19 in 2020 are leaving a clear mark on private consumption.

According to calculations by the Institut der Deutschen Wirtschaft (IW), consumers in Germany spent an average of at least €1,250 less in 2020 than in the year before the crisis started.

In total, this corresponds to a decrease in consumer spending of €116 billion, according to the study by the research institute.

Compared to 2019, consumption fell by 6.1 percent – more than it has in 70 years.

For the first quarter of 2021, researchers put the consumption shortfall at a further €40 to €60 billion.

READ ALSO: Here’s how Germany’s Kinderbonus payments boosted economy in pandemic

In 2020 German residents would have bought very few short-lived consumer goods such as clothing or shoes, write the authors of the study, reported Spiegel.

The purchase of durable consumer goods, such as cars or furniture, also declined in the course of the first lockdown, but demand in the second half of 2020 increased by five percent compared to the previous year.

The IW experts partly attribute this to the temporary VAT cut put in place by the German government in a bid to boost spending.

In 2020 as a whole, the decrease in spending totaled €78 billion – more than two percent of the German GDP.

“The state-decreed closure of body-related services, restaurants, hotels, leisure and event facilities have made many consumer wishes impossible,” summarised IW’s Hubertus Bardt.

Researchers expect private consumption to catch up as the pandemic subsides. But at the moment it appears people are still not in the buying mood.

According to a survey carried out by the IW together with other research groups, 43 percent of Germans want to save the part of their income that remains after basic expenses. Usually it is less than 30 percent.

And only a third of those surveyed stated that they currently plan to spend money on vacations – in non-pandemic times this number is usually 45 to 50 percent.

Again, this isn’t surprising given that Germany is still in the grip of the third wave of the pandemic, with no signs of when people will be able to go shopping and travel freely again.


Consumer/consumers – (der) Verbraucher or (die) Verbraucher

Decrease/decline in consumer spending – Rückgang der Konsumausgaben

im Vergleich mit – compared with

Durable – langlebig

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Is the pandemic over in Germany?

As much of Germany lifts - or prepares to lift - the last remaining Covid-19 measures, intensive care units say Covid-19 admissions are no longer straining the system.

Is the pandemic over in Germany?

Despite a difficult winter of respiratory illnesses, intensive care units in Germany say Covid-19 admissions have almost halved. The number of cases having to be treated in the ICU has gone down to 800 from 1,500 at the beginning of this month.

“Corona is no longer a problem in intensive care units,” Gernot Marx, Vice President of the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine, told the German Editorial Network. “A the moment, we don’t have to think every day about how to still ensure the care of patients, but how to actually run a service that can help.”

Marx said the drop has allowed them to catch up on many postponed surgeries.

The number of sick employees in hospitals is also falling, helping to relieve the pressure on personnel.

The easing pressure on hospitals correlates with the assessment of prominent virologist and head of the Virology department at Berlin’s Charite – Christian Drosten – who said in December that the pandemic was close to ending, with the winter wave being an endemic one.

German federal and state governments are now in the midst of lifting the last of the country’s pandemic-related restrictions. Free Covid-19 antigen tests for most people, with exceptions for medical personnel, recently ended.

READ ALSO: Free Covid-19 tests end in Germany

Six federal states – Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Hessen, Thuringia, Lower Saxony, and Schleswig-Holstein – have ended mandatory isolation periods for people who test positive for Covid-19.

Bavaria, Saxony-Anhalt, and Schleswig-Holstein have ended the requirement to wear FFP2 masks on public transport, while Berlin, Brandenburg, Saxony, Thuringia, and Mecklenburg-West Pomerania will follow suit on February 2nd.

At that time, the federal government will also drop its requirement for masks to be worn on long-distance trains. Labour Minister Hubertus Heil says that’s when he also intends to exempt workplaces – apart from medical locations – from a mask requirement.

READ ALSO: Germany to drop mask mandate in trains and buses from February 2nd

Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg will also end the requirement for patients to wear a mask in doctor’s offices. That’s a requirement that, so far, will stay in place everywhere else. Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has also said that he thinks this requirement should remain. 

But some public health insurers and general practitioners are calling for a nationwide end to the obligation for wearing masks in doctor’s offices.

“The pandemic situation is over,” National Association of Statutory Health Physicians (KBV) Chair Andreas Gassen told the RND network. “High-risk patients aren’t treated in all practices. It should generally be left up to medical colleagues to decide whether they want to require masks in their practices.”