‘Gilets Jaunes’ protests: What’s been the impact on shopper footfall in France?

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by ShopperTrak on 11-06-19

In France, demonstrators known as “gilets jaunes” or yellow vests, took to the streets in mid- November 2018 to protest against a planned hike in taxes on diesel and petrol. The world has since watched the situation escalate as demonstrators protest a growing list of grievances – from social injustice and educational reform to the marginalisation of rural areas and rising living costs.

ShopperTrak footfall data reveals the impact this has had on shopper footfall since the unrest began. We can confirm that across the key shopping districts of Paris and medium sized French cities such as Avignon and Rouen, retailers have suffered significantly. Our retail stores data shows that Paris saw traffic decline significantly in November and December, to a greater extent than the slight downward traffic trend of the past two years (see graph 1).

Graph 1
Market Intelligence Traffic index vs LY:

When we look at France’s shopping centre traffic index, we find that Year-on-Year, November 2018 traffic only dropped -0.2%, with December falling -1.7%. However, on a daily basis, there was a -33% drop in YOY traffic on 17th November – which was the highly disruptive first day of the protests (see graph 2).

Traffic was down -7% on average for the three days following the beginning of the protests, but there was an improvement in the following days, as normal shopping activities resumed.

Graph 2

Political unrest hit Christmas trading hard

In the city of Bordeaux in early December 2018, a rally of 5,000 people turned violent, impacting peak shopping. Incidents also occurred in the cities of Toulouse, Avignon, Lille and Marseille in the run-up to Christmas. There was much unrest centred on Paris’s luxury retail hotspots like the Champs Élysées, Rue Saint-Honoré and Avenue Montaigne — home to luxury players such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Balenciaga.

Some of Paris’s top department stores, from Printemps to Galeries Lafayette, were forced to shut their doors as the third week of protests in Paris became violent – and naturally peak Christmas trading was obstructed.

News coverage has reported how storefronts belonging to brands such as Burberry’s were damaged in December 2018 and that many stores were closed on key Christmas shopping Saturdays. According to French finance minister Bruno Le Maire, speaking to the press in early December, some brands had seen sales plummet by around 20% to 40 % since the demonstrations began.

Q1 decline in France shopper traffic

For the country as a whole, traffic growth declined very slightly in France in January, February and March leaving Q1 2019 down -2.5%, ShopperTrak’s data confirms.

“There is no evidence that retailers have been able to compensate for lost shopper activity on the days following protests,” says Souad Moumou, Digital development representative, ShopperTrak France. “As most stores and shopping centres are closed on Sundays in France there is little opportunity for retailers to recapture traffic and sales immediately after a Saturday protest.”

It’s also been reported that retailers have not seen higher sales through their online businesses, to make up for lost sales in physical stores.

The current and future situation

Retailers continue to be affected by the gilets jaunes anti-government protest movement in the major cities (at the time of writing), with demonstrations typically taking place on Saturdays and therefore impairing retailers’ busiest time of the week. A major income tax break was announced by the government in April, and this should ease pressure on households later in 2019. Retailers are hopeful that ‘business as usual’ will return, allowing store visitor numbers and spending to improve.

“In particular retailers are eager for calm and an end to violent protests in time for the Summer Sales which begin in early July, and of course the summer tourism season,” says Moumou. “In the meantime, where the situation is still tense, retailers in France are working hard to protect their properties and ensure the safety of their employees and customers.”

Third party data source: BanquedeFrance, Trading Economics, The Guardian

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