Not all the World Cup winners will be on the pitch. German retailers are hoping to score higher profits as opening hours are temporarily extended

One of the first things you notice when you visit the huge Wal-Mart in Wiesbaden is the Coca-Cola branded drinks chiller which features a digital clock counting down the days, hours and minutes to the 2006 World Cup kick-off.
These chillers are everywhere. And you soon realise it's not just football fans counting down the days - so are the country's grocery retailers. Battered by years of poor economic growth, lousy consumer confidence and competition, most food chains are praying that the tournament will boost their sales.
&aquot;The retail sector will be a World Cup winner,&aquot; according to analyst Standard & Poor's. &aquot;Sales will be ­accelerated by the spending sprees of the expected 3.5 million fans.&aquot;
Hans-Joachim Koerber, chairman and CEO of Metro Group, which owns the troubled Real ­hypermarket chain, is keeping his fingers crossed. &aquot;We assume that the World Cup, and planned increase in VAT, will have a stimulating effect on the retail business.&aquot;
HDE, the German Retailers Associa­tion, reckons the World Cup will boost spending by E2.2bn over 30 days - representing 0.6% incremental growth. About 40% of its members hope the tournament will create a feelgood factor.
Even if the German team does not emerge victorious, retailers believe they are already onto a winner because the World Cup has resul­ted in a temporary relaxation of opening hours in what is one of the most tightly-regulated markets in Europe. Since 1996, big box ­retailers have been allowed to trade from 7am to 8pm Monday to Saturday. Now Germany's 16 states are being allowed to extend opening hours during the tournament and superstores and hypermarkets will be allowed to open on Sundays.
It's patchy though. Bavaria will let shops open in Nuremberg and Munich on Sundays when matches are played there. Hessen, on the other hand, is allowing stores to open from 2pm to 8pm on Sundays during the tournament, but not on July 9, the day of the final.
Nevertheless, this is dynamite stuff in a country where two years ago the Federal Con­stitutional Court ruled the principle of rest on Sundays was 'sacrosanct'.
Not everybody's happy, of course. Folkert Kupers of trade ­union Verdi, tells one German news organisation: &aquot;Our members are worried about safety. ­Employees will often be left with a limited crew. We cannot ­exclude the possibility of problems with hooligans and violence. The World Cup is being used to try out what otherwise is not possible.&aquot;
On this he may have a point. HDE has welcomed the opportunity to operate what it calls 'friendly' operating hours during the tournament. And some ­retailers privately admit that they hope German consumers will get used to the convenience of longer shopping hours and will support attempts to extend them for good.
Meanwhile, retailers are just getting on with the job in hand. At the 137,000 sq m Wal-Mart in ­Wies­baden, deputy manager ­Marcel Carpentier is planning to be open around the clock from 7am Monday to midnight Saturday, with plenty of excitement and in-store theatre to promote the world's greatest sporting event. Like all retailers, though, he will no doubt be hoping the fun continues long after the final whistle has been blown in Berlin on July 9.