French winter sales draw back crowds as attack fears fade
today Jan 12, 2016
France's winter clearance sales have got off to a healthy start, retailers say, with steep discounts bringing back shoppers who had stayed away in December due to fears of militant attacks and unseasonably warm weather.
Year-on-year revenues rose up to 15 percent during the first five trading days of the traditional six-week winter ritual that began on Jan. 6, retailers interviewed by Reuters said.
But they have a lot of catching up to do.
Last year's first day of sales coincided with the attack on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and first-week revenues declined 10-20 percent overall.
Retail sales dropped again as security fears gripped the capital even more tightly after Islamic State militants killed 130 people in shootings and suicide bombings on Nov. 13.
The aftermath of those attacks has left stores well-stocked and discounts are significant even in the first days of the sales, in many cases between 50 percent and 70 percent.
"The psychological impact of the attacks is fading and the warm winter weather led consumers to postpone purchases. We are rather optimistic for the rest of the year provided there are no other dramas," the head of the National Association of Shopping Centres, Jean-Michel Silberstein, told Reuters.
Store footfall in the first five days was up 8 percent year on year nationwide, more than reversing last year's decline, he added.
BANKING ON A REVIVAL
The November attacks came as the euro zone's second-biggest economy was showing signs of improvement.
Consumer confidence improved, with the last four months of 2015 showing the highest confidence levels since 2007.
But a benchmark survey last week showed that a recovery in the service sector ground to a halt in December.
So many retailers have been banking on the sales to revive their business.
"These clearance sales will be a true gauge of French consumption and morale for the first quarter 2016," said Yves Marin, senior manager at the Kurt Salmon consultancy.
Didier Simon de Bessac, head of the FEH clothing retail federation which represents chains including Etam, Zara and H&M, said revenue was 10-15 percent higher, though only 2 percent up on 2014.
Department stores in big cities are usually more resilient to a weak economy thanks to tourists and a focus on luxury goods. But since the November attacks, foreigners have generally been more hesitant about travelling to Paris.
"Overall sales have yet to return to 2014 levels though this is not the disaster feared", said Claude Boulle, head of the UCV union that represents stores including Galeries Lafayette and Le Printemps.
A spokeswoman at Le Printemps on Boulevard Haussmann in Paris said revenue was flat in the first five days, while rival Galeries Lafayette reported a "soft" start.
Competition from online retailers is also having an impact with the French e-commerce federation Fevad reporting a 20 percent year-on-year sales rise on the first day of the sales.
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