Which country doesn't have a mall

With a corona test for shopping? No (yet) recipe for success

Saturday afternoon in a shopping area in the north-west of the capital: there is a lot of activity on one side of the street. Customers come and go in a large supermarket and do their weekend shopping without being disturbed. Only the wearing of a medical FFP2 mask is required.

On the other side of the street, a few people are standing in a small queue in front of a huge furniture store. Three security guards check whether there is a certificate of a current, negative corona test result - from an officially recognized test center. If that is the case, they lead customers to a row of tables where they can fill out forms and register for purchases.

The furniture store on the right, the supermarket on the left: The corona rules differ considerably

Again and again customers have to be turned away because they have not been tested. That causes frustration. "It's complete nonsense that I need a test here and not over there in the supermarket where everyone is crowded," one woman grumbles. The security guard shrugs his shoulders regretfully. He didn't make the rules, he says, pointing to a large sign that describes the way to the nearest corona test center. However, that's a few kilometers away.

Criticism from Chancellor Merkel

The negative test as an entry ticket for the retail trade, but also the hairdresser and other service providers has been mandatory in Berlin for two weeks. The regulation was introduced after the number of new infections in the capital exceeded the limit of 100 per 100,000 inhabitants in seven days. Actually, Berlin should have then reversed all the easing measures adopted since March 8th. This is how the Prime Ministers agreed with the Federal Chancellor at the beginning of March.

Digital opportunities to register customers are increasing

Angela Merkel reacted accordingly angrily to the decision of the Berliners. "I don't know whether testing and strolling, as it is now called in Berlin, is the right answer," criticized the Chancellor in a TV interview.

Regional diversity

However, that did not prevent other federal states from using the test model as well. It is now also valid in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Hamburg, Saxony, Saarland and Bavaria. Preparations are underway in Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia; in North Rhine-Westphalia, districts and cities are already deciding independently whether they want to try the model.

This sometimes leads to absurd situations. In Aachen, North Rhine-Westphalia, you can go to the hairdresser untested. In Cologne, 65 kilometers away, you need a negative test result, but you can do a self-test under the supervision of the hairdresser. 30 kilometers further, in Bonn, that is not enough; a certificate from an official test center is mandatory here.

Lots of canceled appointments

The regulation brings a massive drop in sales to hairdressers, but also to retailers. "The wires are running hot in our telephone consultation: Numerous hairdressers complain that customers cancel appointments on a large scale because of the mandatory testing," reports the Hamburg trade president Hjalmar Stemmann in an interview.

Bookstores are part of the daily needs and are exempt from the obligation to test

"It would be better if they would close the shops again and send us on short-time work," complains a hairdresser in Berlin. Your business is located in a large shopping street in the Berlin district of Charlottenburg. Right next door in a shop for home accessories, porcelain and gift items, it is also yawning empty. "We actually live from walk-in customers and spontaneous purchases," says one employee: "The test scheme doesn't work for us."

Test offer in a Berlin shopping street - but only with an appointment made in advance

According to a recent survey by the German retail association HDE, shops that are only allowed to be open to customers who tested negative generate 62 percent less sales than in pre-Corona times. "Politicians intervene in the wrong places", criticizes managing director Stefan Genth.

Waiting for a test date

But why doesn't the test model work? What is so difficult about having a corona rapid test carried out, the result of which is available within 15 minutes? In Germany every citizen is entitled to at least one free test per week. There is now a large network of test centers in Berlin. At some of the around 300 points of contact you can appear without an appointment, for others an appointment can or must be made.

It is not uncommon in Berlin that there are hardly any appointments two days in advance

This is often enough but not easy because there are not enough appointments for times that are particularly attractive: for example on Saturday morning, when you could then use the whole day to shop. The test centers, which can be visited without an appointment, are also very busy at such peak times. An hour's waiting time, which has to be spent outside even in the cold, wind and rain, is not uncommon. This has a deterrent effect and greatly diminishes the desire for a shopping tour.

Waiting for the test: A corona test center in Berlin

Bigger dealers are inventive

Larger retail chains in particular respond to this by creating on-site testing facilities. The Hornbach DIY store has already started this in North Rhine-Westphalia, and many of the 96 locations nationwide are to follow. "In the past few days the municipalities and local aid organizations have been approached to make some of the large parking spaces available for test centers," says company spokesman Florian Preuss.

Dealers hope to be able to attract more customers with test offers on site

Dealers whose shops are less central and who therefore cannot hope that the municipality will open a test facility on their doorstep will have to come up with something else. For example, a Berlin furniture store has hired medical staff for two branches in the city. Customers who want to take advantage of the offer have to pay 20 euros. They receive a voucher for this, which they can have offset against a purchase.

This effort is not worthwhile for small businesses. Their owners have also closed their shops again in response to the obligation to test. In the shopping street in Berlin-Charlottenburg, it is now every second shop in a shopping center.