The metal roller blind of “The Rolling Shop” in Paris is let down to the floor. This is also the case with many other shops on the Boulevard du Temple, an important shopping mile between the squares République and Bastille. Since October 30, the start of the second lockdown in France, all shops that don’t sell “essential goods,” such as food, daily media, medicines, etc., have had to remain closed. This second lockdown, just before the important Christmas business, hits the small independent fashion-stores hard–especially because this important shopping period was already largely under pressure in previous years due to strikes, yellow waistcoat demonstrations and terrorist attacks.
Some retailers, however, do not want to simply accept the new closure and are looking for ways to save the November business anyway. Such as Guillaume Robin, who opened his small boutique The Rolling Shop in 2015 and sent an e-mail to his regular customers in early November to offer them a very personal and private shopping experience: After making an appointment, customers can try out and shop in his shop despite the lockdown. The address of the back entrance is communicated by SMS directly on site. There, on the backside oft he shop, Robin receives his customers personally. “We call the offer ‘prohibition party’ because we open secretly, just like the Americans did during the prohibition time in 20th century. The customers get coffee or a glass of prosecco and I put on jazz music to create ambience.”
Guillaume Robin inside his store The Rolling Shop
Of the 6,000 customers contacted, 100 have already made an appointment within the first two weeks. A maximum of four people are allowed in the shop, but most of them only come in pairs. Since in France private citizens are only allowed to move one kilometer from their place of residence, the clientele comes mainly from the neighboring arrondissements. “Many come straight after work. Most appointments are from 18 and to 21 hrs.” Robin is very satisfied with the response. “Everyone who came also bought something. Winter jumpers are bestsellers. The average shopping basket is about 150 euros.” So Robin manages to save his sales in November. “I am even slightly in the plus compared to last year because the yellow waistcoat demonstrations on the boulevard prevented business at that time.”
The 39-year-old has clear ideas about the reasons why customers buy: “Most buy from a mixture of solidity with the small retailers and politeness. It is important to the customers that the purchase is ‘safe.’ We offer all the precautions like mask, gel and safety distance.” The retailer makes a maximum of three appointments per day, so that there is enough time in between for airing and cleaning. Initially he only sent his customers pictures of the products by e-mail or mobile phone, but most of them wanted to come and try out. This is how the idea came about. “In these times you have to be creative. Even President Macron said that in his televised speech on lockdown.” The time and the business are difficult, but Robin does not feel neglected by the government. “In the first lockdown, there was a help for self-employed people. It wasn’t much, only 1,500 euros. But in addition there is the short-time work allowance for the employees and now this guarantee, which is like a loan from the state. That helps.”
According to his own knowledge, he is the only one on his shopping street who offers such a live service. Most other shops only have a notice on the shop window that they are closed. A few steps away from The Rolling Shop, the store Merci offers a FaceTime shopping experience with delivery to the front door. But in the shop everything is dark and the adjoining restaurant has been converted into a warehouse.
Vanessa Bruno offers a click & collect service
The otherwise busy shopping mile Rue des Archives provides a similar picture. Only Vanessa Bruno has lights on. A woman comes along the street and walks purposefully towards the shop. The shop opens immediately and the customer picks up two large shopping bags inside. A sign for a Click-and-Collect service is displayed on the door. “This offer works wonderfully and is also permitted by the state,” the saleswoman assures dutifully. “The customers buy really a lot. Most for 600 euros and more.” To make the service public, the management has posted on all social media channels and stuck a notice on the door at all shops in the town. Above all, the shop stands out with its illuminated interior and appears lively in comparison with the others.
At Vanessa Bruno the lights are still on
These two examples prove that sales can be made even during the lockdown. During the first lockdown in March and April, many supermarkets, which in France are very well equipped with fashion and decoration, benefited from this. Now, however, during the second wave, small retailers have rightly objected because this has created an imbalance between the big chains and independents. The areas of fashion and decoration in the supermarkets are now excluded and closed off from the public. It may not look pretty, but it serves the purpose.
BHV’s Bricolage department remains open
BHV: the bricolage department is separated from the ‘non-essential’ retail departments
A walk through the BHV department shop has a similar effect. Thanks to its extensive DIY department, whose products such as screws, lightbulbs and household cleaners are considered to be “essential,” the store can remain open. Demarcations lead the customers–monitored by security personnel–past the ground floor with furniture and decoration and guide them to the DIY store department in the basement. However, the BHV department shop, like its counterpart on Boulevard Haussmann, the flagship store Galeries Lafayette, offers “shopping at a distance.” From Monday to Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., customers can contact a personal shopper or even the sales staff of certain brands directly–via a live video. The consultant uses his or her mobile phone to communicate directly with the customers, shows them the goods or, in the case of the personal shopper, makes a second appointment where the curated products of the fashion consultant are presented to the customer under the best lighting conditions. The service is without engagement. If the goods are purchased, they are delivered within a few hours within the city of Paris.
Galeries Lafayette also offers this service for other branches in France, for example in Lyon. For furniture from the BHV department shop, appointments can even be made in the shop. In addition to this live shopping experience at a distance, there is also a Click-and-Collect offer and a “Wishlist” service for those who have already chosen their Christmas shopping and want to have the goods delivered to their home quickly and free of charge. This offer naturally works more easily for goods that do not need to be tried, such as beauty, decoration and toys.
At book store “Petite Egypte” a table is placed as a barrier in the entrance door while selling continues
For the same reason, shops for children’s toys, flowers or even books are open despite the lockdown. The dealers simply place a table as a barrier in the entrance door and sell over this table. Alexis Argyroglo, owner of the small library “Petite Egypte” in the center of Paris is very satisfied with this method. Several dozens of customers come to him every day and sometimes the rush is so great that customers even have to stand in line. “Most of them know exactly what they want. This November I made a lot more turnover than last year. And October, right before the lockdown, went great.”
Of course, the biggest business during lockdown in France is also realized with online shopping. But for small retailers like Robin from The Rolling Shop this is difficult. “We’ve had an e-shop for years, but it’s a lot of work. Usually good pictures are also missing. If I sell a dress in the shop, I would have to take it out of the shop online immediately. But I haven’t enough time for it that because I run the shop alone. That’s why we only offer around 30% of our assortment online.”
For such boutiques, the French Facebook branch would now like to offer further training. Videos and chat rooms will be used to provide tips on how to quickly set up and maintain an online shop. There is also a request from the shopping associations of the city centers to the French government to limit online sales to purely “essential products” as well and above all to ban the approaching Black Friday. The Rolling Shop’s Robin notes: “To cancel Black Friday would be a great help to us, especially if the lockdown were to continue in December. We now need the sales before Christmas to survive.”