In France some shops are allowed to reopen. Retailers are approaching the restart with a positive attitude, hope and creative solutions.


On Monday, May 11, the two-month confinement in France officially ended. But despite the relaxation, not all shops are open again. The country is now divided into two risk categories: in the green departments, normal life is gradually returning. In the departments marked in red, the risk of Covid-19 is still high. Accordingly, the regulations there are stricter: for example, large shopping centers covering 40,000 sq. meters in the region Ile de France, which includes the greater Paris area, must remain closed. Large department stores and crowd pullers such as the Galeries Lafayette flagship store on Boulevard Haussmann are also affected.


At the moment, 33,000 clothing stores throughout France are allowed to reopen.  They must comply with government regulations: only one person is allowed to move around in 10 square meters, hydro-alcoholic gel must be available at the entrance for disinfection, wearing a mask is recommended, changing rooms must be disinfected after use, tried on garments must be kept in quarantine for at least four hours.


Conditions like these do not exactly facilitate a return to normality, as husband and wife team Perrine and Reza Milot admit, who run two small shops in Bordeaux under the name Boutique Adelaide. "One of our two boutiques has only 35 sq. meters. It's like a living room. With the new distance rules we can't welcome more than two customers at the same time," explained Perrine Milot during an Insta-Live conference initiated by the exhibition operator WSN Development (Who's Next, Première Classe) and personally moderated by WSN-CEO Frédéric Maus.


There are only two changing rooms in the small Adelaide boutique. One of them is turned into a quarantine station for the tried-on clothes. There the Milots want to install the decontamination lamp, which is said to disinfect the clothes in only five minutes, using a special UV light that is less harmful on the textiles compared to solutions made of hot steam. "The lamp is otherwise used in industry and is said to decontaminate the clothes with a flash of UV light. We ordered one for each boutique."


The Milots are trying to look positively into the uncertain future. "It's clear to us that we will earn less and can write off this season. But the small retailers, manufacturers and trade fairs must now stick together, exchange information and help each other. We are all in the same situation." The Bordelais are thinking about staggering opening hours for the coming months. "We could reserve the mornings for pre-arranged appointments, the walk-in customers come in the afternoons and we stay open longer in the evenings. In summer, when there are many tourists in Bordeaux, maybe even until 9:30 pm. There's still a lot going on in our neighborhood."


The Milots are critical of the fact that the circulation of customers in the store can be controlled or directed. Their retail colleague Caroline Lumbroso, who runs three shops in Lyon called Blush for decoration, fashion, jewelry and gifts, has a different opinion: "One of the biggest challenges for the future is to combine love of the customer with a certain rigor. They must be directed and also educated. The more we guarantee their safety, the more customers are relaxed when shopping." Lumbroso has therefore taken precautions: gel and masks are provided for customers who do not have any of their own, enough changing rooms are closed, a separate room is reserved for the clothing quarantine.


But despite the difficulties, this retailer is also in a positive mood. "The confinement has made many think and shown us how little we need. Just filling a shop with goods is not enough today. What is important is the reception of the customer, the service and the humanity in the conversation. The big brands are now trying to integrate this into their flagships, but we have been doing this for years. We also have products that can tell a story." Consumer behavior will change, says the retailer from Lyon. “Many customers want more information about products. This is an opportunity for small, authentic labels, we offer and which will gain in esteem as a result.”


But the time of the confinement has also shown Blush how important the online presence is. "I used to use the website mainly as a showcase for my stores before. But then it slowly changed into an e-shop." The retailer therefore used the two months of the store closure to completely redesign the website–with new technology and new details. "The most difficult part was to transfer our service offer from the brick-and-mortar to online. Of course, this won't bring in the big sales immediately, but we are prepared for the future. Because we're all gonna need a long breath until a vaccine won't be found in 2021."


Régis Pennel is well versed in online business. The Parisian is the founder of the online store L'Exception and opened only some years later a brick-and-mortar store of the same name in La Canopée des Halles shopping center. As his store is part of the complex, Pennel does not yet have a government permit to open. But he is ready: The cash register will be protected by plexiglass panels, the salesmen will wear masks and safety face shields. "This may be a bit overprotective, but I want to be on the safe side." Thanks to its size, L'Exception has little trouble with clearance rules and clothing quarantine.

The Westfield shopping center Les Halles, where the shop L'Exception is also located, is still waiting for the government approval to open.
Photo: SI Team
The Westfield shopping center Les Halles, where the shop L'Exception is also located, is still waiting for the government approval to open.
"My biggest fear is that the amount of circulation will scare off customers from shopping." Pennel expects weekend sales to plummet to one-fifth. In the past, his boutique made far more than the online store. The ratio could now turn around. "For us, that means we need to invest more in the website and improve customer service." The Parisian also has concrete plans on how to do that. "We have a new offer called 'La Boîte à l'Exception.’ The personal shopper selects goods and sends them to the customer. The customer pays nothing at first, selects and sends back what he doesn't like. What he keeps is charged to his credit card." The goal is to sell more goods at the regular price because too many customers are waiting for reductions. The new offer was launched in March and currently three boxes are shipped per day. Pennel says:"The response is very good. This gives us hope to revive our business."



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