Mail order heir Alexander Otto: “Unfortunately we were lockdown world champions” – Economy

He is one of the heirs of the Hamburg mail order dynasty Otto, head of the ECE group, is Germany’s largest operator of shopping centers (200). With a foundation he supports the German inner cities.

Alexander Otto (54) spoke to BILD about his corona balance, wishes for politics and the call for more state.

Mr. Otto, what did the corona lockdowns cost you?

Alexander Otto: “The Corona period was a clear setback, the damage to retailers is considerable: 90 percent of retailers in our centers made a loss in 2020. We used to have an average of one percent vacancy, now we’re almost five. But our centers all got through the pandemic relatively well, also because we gave our tenants a lot of support and waived 50 percent of the shop rents during the lockdowns. Overall, we have relieved the affected retailers in our German centers alone by well over 150 million euros. “

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Would you have preferred to have been an online retailer during the Corona period?

Otto (laughs): “Of course, online retailers have fared significantly better over time. This is why the following applies to this phase: a very clear yes. For the future, however, it is not about online or brick-and-mortar retail. Customers increasingly want a combination of both. We are therefore working to connect both worlds. Our ECE works closely with our sister, the Otto Group, giving retailers the opportunity to be present on online platforms and to offer goods both online and offline. This goes right up to the “ship from store” offer, where you order online and then have it delivered directly from the store. “

Photo: Niels Starnick / BILD

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“The debate of the future is not online or traditional retail. Customers increasingly want a combination of both, “says Alexander Otto (54)Photo: Niels Starnick / BILD

Germany is discussing compulsory vaccination. Are you for it?

Otto: “At our headquarters alone, we fully vaccinated 500 employees during a company campaign. But we do not make it mandatory for us to be vaccinated. I think the principle that everyone has the free choice to decide is a good thing. But it is extremely important to move very quickly in the fight against the pandemic. I do not hope that it will be compulsory for this to happen. “

You have also made vaccination offers in your centers …

Otto: “More than 97,000 vaccinations have already been carried out in 58 of our shopping centers – some in small, short-term campaigns. We are also part of a vaccination campaign for German trade. Of course, also for economic reasons, because we are particularly affected economically by Corona restrictions. But we are also concerned with the social question. I think it is very, very important that as many people as possible are vaccinated so that we can get through this pandemic as quickly as possible. “

Do you believe the policy that promises there will be no more lockdown or partial lockdown?

Otto: „I really hope so. Because we as a society would no longer be able to cope with a new lockdown – both psychologically and financially. The costs would be immeasurably high and no longer bear any relation to the effects. Despite the not so low number of infections, the number of corona patients treated in the clinics is comparatively manageable at the moment. “

What went wrong in the federal and state corona policy?

Otto: “Unfortunately we were lockdown world champions at five and a half months. We can see that at the moment in Austria, where the lockdown only lasted two months, the number of customers in the shops is already significantly better. The same goes for Eastern Europe. For us, on the other hand, it takes significantly longer after the long lockdown for everything to level off again. “

Does the state trust the citizens too little?

Otto: “Yes! We call out ‘the state’ too often and too quickly. The political debate is very different between America and Germany. In the US, the issue of tax cuts is important to everyone. With us, on the other hand, people tend to call for more taxes for more state. But I believe that it doesn’t necessarily help if the state is supposed to take care of everything. In the US, for example, the lockdown was very brief and retail is booming like never before this year. One can and must of course discuss at what price. But there they generally rely more on people’s personal responsibility. We have to get there more strongly in order to remain internationally competitive. “

Sounds like strong criticism of the corona policy in Germany …

Otto: ” Absolutely! I am very disappointed that after the first few months of the pandemic we could think of nothing more than another long lockdown. “

Are you afraid that during the pandemic, Germans have simply got so used to ordering online that they no longer return en masse to shopping centers and city centers?

Otto: “The trend towards online trading has definitely been strengthened and accelerated. At the same time, however, we can also see how happy people are to come back to the shops. Sales are better and have recovered faster than the number of visitors. For many people, shopping in the neighborhood is often simply more convenient, an experience and part of social life. Stationary retail has a bright future, but the pace of change will continue to increase. “

What will disappear from the shopping areas?

Otto: “Above all, the textile shops, which traditionally shaped our inner cities, will become fewer. The statistics also show that more and more owner-managed businesses are disappearing, often for family reasons, which I regret. “

What can be offered instead in city centers or shopping centers?

Otto: “You have to be able to combine new things and ideas with conventional retail space: gastronomy, sports and leisure activities, services. For example, we opened an esports store in a center for the first time. There is also a lot of demand for depots from online retailers who would like to go to parts of the center in order to deliver from there. But that is not easy, because higher fire protection guidelines then apply again. We need more flexible legislation in Germany for such things. “

What does a new federal government have to tackle?

Otto: “This great drive for more regulation must be stopped. We need more freedom and more personal responsibility – also for retail. And very important: The same rules must apply to online and offline retailers. “

For example?

Otto: “For example at the Sunday opening. Just when you see how difficult it is to even apply for a Sunday shopping when there is no limit in online trading. “

What is the biggest stumbling block for the economy?

Otto: “This is the flood of regulations. We have to put a lot of bureaucratic and personnel effort into all areas – from data protection to compliance rules and financial control. All of this is very important – but often too complex to use. “

Ein Familienfoto aus dem Jahr 2009: Werner Otto (✝︎ 102, vorne) mit seinen Kindern Alexander Otto, Katharina Otto-Bernstein, Frank Otto, Ingvild Goetz und Michael Otto (v.l.n.r)Foto: picture alliance / Eventpress Herrmann

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A family photo from 2009: Werner Otto (✝︎ 102, front) with his children Alexander Otto, Katharina Otto-Bernstein, Frank Otto, Ingvild Goetz and Michael Otto (from left to right)Foto: picture alliance / Eventpress Herrmann

If you look at our digital country: What is your rating for Germany?

Otto: “Indeed a 2! We shouldn’t be so critical of ourselves. We are also relatively far ahead in Europe compared to the USA, also when it comes to administrations. Our problem is. It is not easy for founders to launch digital companies. When it comes to financing, it’s a lot easier in the USA. “

Let’s play Cinderella: You have three wishes open – no matter what area of ​​your life.

Otto: “We have very big international tasks ahead of us. For this we need close cooperation and peaceful coexistence, especially between the EU, China and the USA. “

Wish number two?

Otto: “Environment: We have to make significantly more progress in order to achieve CO2 neutrality. Here, too, global cooperation is very important. We only invest too much in our own country, talking about small solutions that are incredibly expensive. So much more can be done with and in developing countries, for example in the rainforest regions, with fairly manageable funds. “

Third? “At the end of this pandemic: That health and normalcy will finally return. The restrictions no longer make sense to that extent. “

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