AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
Retailing in modern Greece seems in many ways to have changed little since the earliest shops were established there over four millennia ago. Small shops run by individuals and their families, often with a strong artisan/workshop element, characterize towns today, operating in some places such as central Athens only metres from the stone foundations of similarly sized units in the ancient agora. While they represent a continuity of trading tradition that might appeal to the romantic historicist, for the late twentieth-century world of mass consumerism and multinational enterprises they are more a tangible symbol of some of the fundamental structural weaknesses of the modern Greek economy, where low productivity and undercapitalized small enterprises predominate. Four decades of economic growth since the early 1950s have seen a huge increase in GDP and real incomes, and a massive shift of population from the countryside to the towns. Accession to the European Community in 1981 has brought further economic and social benefits, with the country a major net recipient of funds. Yet during all this time little change took place in the character, structure and organization of retailing (and wholesaling).
The long period of moribund activity in Greek retailing, however, has come to an abrupt end within the past four years. The need to harmonize legislation for the Single European Market (SEM), the adoption of liberal free-market policies by the Government, and the recognition of an unexploited opportunity by foreign retailers have simultaneously combined to produce an environment where modern retail formats and organizations are suddenly and rapidly expanding, and modern approaches to retail management are being adopted. For existing retailers and the other players in the channels of distribution in Greece (consumers, wholesalers and manufacturers), the potential consequences are profound; while for the student of retail change, the country provides an almost perfect "laboratory" for the analysis of a system in transition. This article assesses the nature and scale of the changes that have begun and identifies opportunities for further research.
Greek retailing 1951-90
Organizational and sectoral structure
Comparative statistics on retailing in Europe show Greece to belong to that group of Mediterranean countries where a structure of small family-owned and operated businesses continues to hold sway. The high number of shops per head of population, the low numbers of employees per enterprise and the high proportion of self-employed are three measures which reflect a system of commercial distribution far different in character from that which has developed in most of Northern Europe and North America (Table I). Moreover, it is a system that has been strikingly resistant to change, as data from the various censuses of commerce taken in Greece since 1951 demonstrate[3,4] (Table II). Each census up to 1984 has shown an increase in shop numbers and employment over the previous one; and it is only with the 1988 census that the first signs of a halt to the continuous proliferation of small shops can be detected. Between 1951 and 1988 there was an increase of 125 per cent in shop numbers, and 158 per cent in retail employment. Average employment per establishment rose from 1.6 in 1951 to 1.8 in 1988. The rate of growth in establishment numbers was considerably in excess of the 31 per cent increase in the country's population over the same period, resulting in an increase in retail provision from 10.8 shops per 1,000 people in 1951 to 18.7 in 1984. As Table II shows, the growth in numbers came from the non-food sector, and it indicates how the increase in demand for consumer goods, resulting from the growth in real incomes, was met largely through a growth in store numbers rather than any increase in the average size of establishment. Indeed, until relatively recently changes in retail productivity stemmed almost exclusively from increases in average transaction size rather than through any fundamental changes in organization and operations.
Table I Retail densities and employment in Greece and selected European countries
Outlets per Average employment Percentage 10,000 pop. per enterprise self-employed
Greece 170 1.8 71.1 Denmark 87 4.2 16.0 France 83 4.5 23.8 Germany 59 5.6 15.4 Spain 129 3.2 53.4 UK 61 8.7 15.8