French Retailers Scramble to Salvage Spending Season

PARIS — Tensions are high in retail everywhere. As shopkeepers hunker down behind boarded windows in the U.S., bracing for possible election-related violence, retailers in France are clamoring for the right to open — while insisting the government intervene further and level the playing field as the crucial holiday spending season approaches.

The French government’s fresh wave of lockdown measures, aimed at reining in spiraling coronavirus cases, call on all ‘non-essential’ commerce to close. Stores selling hardware, food and computer goods are allowed to remain open, while those selling clothing, books, makeup and accessories have been ordered to shut.

Big-box retailers, which offer products from various categories, are allowed to remain open, but starting Wednesday, and following complaints from smaller competitors, they are being required to close off sections that sell goods deemed ‘non-essential.’

In an effort to help smaller companies hurt by the lockdowns, the government on Tuesday launched a call for proposals from businesses that could help others take their activities online. Meanwhile, the government is giving smaller companies that are forced to close 10,000 euros in assistance per month.

For department store group Galeries Lafayette, which has activities that straddle both essential and non-essential goods, sections of some retails spaces will remain open, but most business will have to shift online.

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The group said Tuesday that while the majority of its stores are closed, food and wine sections, hardware and the fresh produce section of its Eataly sales points would remain open, while prepared dishes from the franchise will be available through local delivery services. For other products, the group is also offering curbside pickup services and, through WhatsApp or phone calls, remote shopping services with a personal shopper.

Nicolas Houzé, chief executive officer of Galeries Lafayette and BHV Marais department stores, sent an e-mail to clients earlier this week saying the stores were doing everything possible to maintain contact and prepare for the holiday season. Store clerks could be reached by Internet or telephone, for home deliveries or click & collect services, he said in the message, reminding consumers that the hardware section of BHV Marais would remain open.

“In our family group’s 125 years of existence we have never had to close our Galeries Lafayette and BHV Marais stores. It is both painful and with great difficulty, for our activity, of course, but also for our teams,” he said, noting they had done everything possible to serve customers.

The group’s flagship on Boulevard Haussmann is setting up its Christmas windows, in keeping with the annual tradition, while crosstown rival Le Bon Marché, which is allowed to keep its food hall open, has already set up the holiday displays. The Avenue des Champs-Elysées will string up its holiday lights on Nov. 22, with French singer and actress Louane scheduled to turn on the lights — a role once held by Karl Lagerfeld.

Several beauty product producers and retailer associations, including the Fédération des Entreprises de la Beauté, have protested the closure of small businesses, and issued a joint statement calling for the reopening of beauty salons and perfumery shops as well as the makeup sections of large retailers.

These stores make a third of their sales during the holiday season, argued the federation, noting that hair and beauty salons, as well as perfumeries are essential for the well-being of the French population.

“Taking care of oneself is essential for well-being and self-esteem, and decisive for the mental health of French people,” read the statement.

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