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As of Saturday, non-essential shops reopen their doors in France. As Christmas approaches, illuminated department stores are looking forward to reuniting with their customers in an attempt to save a disastrous year and approach 2021 with optimism. But the absence of foreign tourists should be felt.
Boulevard Haussman, in Paris, the department stores are, like every year, adorned with their festive clothes as Christmas approaches: twelve illuminated windows as well as the traditional and huge Christmas tree have taken their place at Galeries Lafayette for the reopening of the stores. scheduled for Saturday, November 28, at 10 a.m., after a month of confinement.
“Four weeks before the holidays, this is very good news”, rejoices Yohann Petiot, general manager of Alliance du commerce, which brings together department stores and clothing and shoe stores, interviewed by France 24. ” Now we will do everything to save Christmas “.
“Very difficult year”
After three months of the curtains drawn, “2020 has been a very difficult year for department stores,” he admits. In the columns of the World, in November, the general manager of the Galeries Lafayette group, Nicolas Houzé, assessed the loss “at half” of turnover over the whole year. However, the company was able to benefit from the opening of the DIY department at BHV, the Lafayette Gourmet on Boulevard Haussmann and the Italian grocery store Eataly.
The situation is much darker, however, for Le Printemps, which this week announced a social plan aimed at ensuring the sustainability of its activities. Seven stores are forced to close in the coming months, threatening 430 jobs – out of 3,000 in the group. This restructuring is not only due to the Covid-19 crisis: a group in decline for several years and a clothing market down 15% for ten years. “Then came economic problems: the attacks, demonstrations of yellow vests, strikes, deciphers a spokesperson for Printemps. The Covid has worsened an already dramatic situation.”
The aid granted by the State, such as partial unemployment or the device for commercial leases for the month of November, partially absorb the losses due to the health crisis. “But there is no measure for stocks, nuance Yohann Petiot. We must manage to sell them”.
Foreigners, 40% to 50% of customers in department stores
For this, the director general of the Alliance du commerce now hopes that customers will be at the rendezvous in department stores, “in solidarity”, to help raise the bar. But in the aisles of luxury products, saleswomen will have to focus on Parisian customers, since foreign tourists, used to strolling and shopping, are still not allowed to travel to France. “This represents a big shortfall: since it represents 40% to 50% of the public, he says. With the exception of BHV and Bon Marché which are more oriented towards a Parisian clientele.”
Since the 1980s, department stores – which have existed for more than a century – have always relied on this high-end foreign clientele, analyzes Sabine Heitz-Spahn, teacher-researcher in marketing at the University of Lorraine specializing in shops city center. “This clientele is motivated by the pleasure of buying luxury products with less tax, of course, but they also come to discover the majesty of the place. It is a real tourist experience.”
The fact remains that today, these old houses suffer from this strong dependence on foreign consumers, to the point of having missed the turn of digital transformation. “The management has not bet on digital in recent years. Result: they have invested little in digital tools, even before the Covid-19, estimates the researcher. It was a real strategic error.”
“The Covid-19, an accelerator in digital transformation”
Containment requires, the flagships had to dive into distance selling services: click & collect, e-reservation, online shopping, personal shopper in video. “The Covid-19 crisis has been an accelerator in digital transformation,” notes Yohann Petiot. After the first confinement, the saleswomen of the Galeries Lafayette Champs-Elysées learned to focus on a more local clientele, and in particular the millennials [la génération des 17-35, née au tournant du millénaire, NDLR], by attracting them via social networks. “We have highlighted the flagship products of our collections via Story on Instagram,” says a ready-to-wear manager, who prefers to remain anonymous. “It’s up to us to recreate the urge.”
While waiting for the return of foreign customers, expected in the second half of 2021, it is time for optimism. The end of the second confinement comes with a glimmer of hope: the possibility of a vaccine in the months to come. “For us, concludes Yohann Petiot, it is the possibility of regaining international activity.”