Bleak start for French summer sales
With the French economy firmly in recession and unemployment at record highs, retailers said they feared shoppers might be saving money for the summer holidays or for autumn-winter clothing purchases.
Online retailers were more resilient but the French e-commerce federation Fevad said the growth trend slowed to 5 percent from double-digit growth in previous years.
Retail sales are heavily regulated in France, which allows two periods of five-week clearance sales each year. The summer sales season runs until July 30 and traditionally provides an important boost for apparel stores.
The French Fashion Institute(IFM), which estimates that sector sales for the first five months of 2013 already fell 4 percent, is likely to revise down its forecast of a 2 percent decline for the full year.
"Revenue is below what it was a year ago," said Bernard Morvan, head of the Federation Nationale de l'Habillement, which regroups nearly 45,000 independent clothing stores.
Morvan estimated that revenue in the first week of the sales was flat to 5 percent below last year's.
Consumer confidence in June in France was at its lowest level since records began in 1972 and statistics institute INSEE said last week households are more pessimistic than ever about their future living standards.
Adding to the bleak mood, weeks of cold and rainy weather have left retailers with huge stocks of unsold Summer clothes, forcing them to offer discounts of up to 40-50 percent in the first days of the sales.
At French department stores, which in big cities are more resilient to the bleak climate due to their upscale positioning and because they attract foreign tourists, sales were flat.
"Being flat, it's already very good in the current climate," said Claude Boulle, head of the UCV union that represents stores such as Galeries Lafayette or Printemps.
At the Printemps Haussmann department store in Paris, however, which has refocused its offering on luxury items, CEO Pierre Pelarrey said revenue on Sunday June 30 was up 7 pct year on year.
This was fueled by double-digit demand for accessories and single-digit demand for women's fashions, he said.
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