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 of the 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.”
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.
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.
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.”