French Retailing: A Comparable Look at Retailing in France as Opposed to the US

Different countries have different ways of retailing. This encompasses marketing, product placement, visual merchandising, and customer service. France has a very unique way of retailing and it is different than here in the United States. The following is a break down of retail practices in France; from fabric stores to gas stations, the methods and strategies of retail are unique to this country.

Sales in retail stores in America vary from store to store. While there are the general clearance sales for seasons past, many stores in the US operate their sales on their own personal basis. In France, it is a completely different story. Sales, or soldes, as they are called, are implemented twice a year. Since the government controls the retail industry, they also control the sales. Never will a store have a “sale section” or markdowns unless it is during the prescribed time period for which sales are allowed. These times are during July and January. Therefore, knowing exactly when stores are having their sales, results in a mad rush to shop from consumers. The stores are generally crowded with customers who are sometimes ready to fight to the death over a pair of Blahniks marked 50% off. On a positive note, this generates huge revenue for retailers and helps boost France’s economy by encouraging people to get out and spend money.

As aforementioned, the sales are for every store, from discount to designer salons. No matter if one is looking for a hammer or an Armani suit, it will most likely be on sale. The merchandise that is on sale is generally notated. The sale price is marked because this causes less confusion for consumers as well as sales personnel. There are, however, a few stores that do not mark their sale items. For example, in the department store Samaritan in Paris, expensive shoes are thrown into bins as if they were cheaply made. However, this gives the perception to the consumer that they are a good deal. The bins are marked with the sale price. The items not on sale, which are generally small in amount, are marked “non soldes”. This is also done so that there is no confusion to the consumer.

Visual display is very important in French retailing. Even doctors offices have window displays. This entices people into the store as well as gives them a feel for the mood and theme of the store. One major feature of display windows in France is that the prices of the pieces displayed are usually shown on a card in the window. This helps to give the consumer an idea of the price points in the store as well as how much something actually costs. This is not done in the US partially because part of the retailing technique in America is to get people into the store. Once they are in the store and realize that they maybe cannot afford the jacket in the window, they might spot some less expensive pieces. Not putting prices in the window also lets the consumer derive their own concept of the clothes and price imaging of the store or business.

Designer boutiques vary in their methodology of the sales. Many of the boutiques have doormen. Gucci, for example, had a doorman head counting how many could come into the store. If the consumers had shopping bags with them with items purchased previously, the doorman would look into the bag and then tape them shut in order to prevent shoplifting. This is a precautionary step taken to ensure safety to the consumer and to the employees. When there are such names as Gucci, Celine, Fendi, etc. having merchandise available at 50% off, sometimes a consumers’ “sanity” could be questionable. People get anxious and excited and this could turn into a negative situation; thus the action of only allowing a certain number of people in the store at a time. Chanel, for example, had velvet ropes foreboding people from getting into the store and the line stretched out into the street. Chanel’s sale items are located in the back of the store with sale prices marked. This is similar to US retailing.

Dior, however, is a different story. There is a sale room. The room is located in the back of the store past the prÃ?ªt-a-porter and home goods. In this room are 3 sales associates who assist the 20 people crammed into this small room. The merchandise is behind the counter on shelves and in display cases. This is different than Celine, for example, who had their sale items displayed normally throughout the store with a sign simply stating “soldes”.

The Chanel boutique is set up in departments. There was a section for clothes, sunglasses, and make up. However, there is a separate accessories store. They offer complimentary gift-wrapping, email promotions, and an altering service. When a consumer chooses their merchandise, the sale person get it for them and then takes it up front to a cashier. Once you pay him/her, they present the purchase wrapped and bagged in a logo shopping bag with ribbons and flowers. Some similarities to US stores are that there are ample sale personnel on the floor ready to assist the consumer. Also, the clothes are placed on racks against the walls. Some differences would be the check out style, as aforementioned, as well as the fact that there are security personnel everywhere as well as an additional doorman. Gucci is very similar, with about 8 departments, which include shoes, handbags, accessories, and pr�ªt-a-porter. Some services offered are things such as personal shoppers, shipping of merchandise to a residence, and gift-wrapping. Some similar aspects are that there are sales people behind the counter, but a difference is that there is a sales person behind every counter, where as in the US one person has to man many counters. Some differences are that paying and retrieving merchandise is done at two different areas. Also, there is tight security as well as inspection and taping shut of large shopping bags.

One boutique which is slightly different than designer boutiques is Diesel in Florence, Italy. There are two general departments, men and women’s, with sub departments within each. The men and women’s sections each have a denim area, shoes, and accessories area. The sales personnel retrieves the denim for the consumer, as there are many styles and washes of denim offered. The consumer simply picks out the style they like and the sales person gets their size. Diesel has the same check out procedure as in the US, as well as sales people in each department as well as ample dressing rooms. Once difference would be that the store is two levels as opposed to one.

Specialty stores are unique as well. For example, Andre, a shoe store, only has two departments, men’s and women’s. They offer shoes with only a few accessories. The shoes are displayed and the sizes are already out on the floor. This is different than in the US. There is also a lot of merchandise in such a small space as well as not so helpful sales personnel. However, shoes are displayed in the window as well as background music being played. These would be some similarities to American retailers. One specialty store that is especially unique is Mario Binaldi in Florence, Italy. There are only two departments, handbags and coats. This store is unique because they sell leather goods. Also, the designer of these goods, Mr. Binaldi, runs the store. He offers international shipping as well as custom designs for his clients. One major difference in this store is that the designer is always present; this usually is not found in US stores.

Department stores in France are unique and have many differences from department stores in America. Le Bonmarche is the oldest department store in France. It is highly respected and has a large selection. There are about 20 departments and each floor basically has it’s own department or two. One floor has only shoes while another has only home goods and furniture. These are all general aspects that are similar to American department stores. Samaritan, however, is extremely unique. There are two large buildings. One houses menswear and vintage clothing and accessories, while the other has women’s wear, accessories, makeup, fabric, books, etc. Each building has about 5 floors each. Samaritan even has a pet section as well as an art supply section. A furniture floor is also in the second building. When merchandise is bought, there is not a register to pay for it in the specific department, like in America. Instead, there is a central checkout area on each floor and a sales person rings the customer up. This is very different than in the US. Samaritan has about 20 departments with sales personnel manning each department. Samaritan tends to carry more upscale brands such as Diesel, Miss Sixty, etc. Another difference between this store and the ones in American is that there are separate buildings for men’s and women’s wear. This is also evident in Printemps, a luxury department store. One floor in Printemps is strictly designer boutiques. There is everything from Chanel to Stella McCartney. Each “boutique” within the store has its’ own specific sales people representing the ascribed boutique. This is different than in most department stores in the US except for Neiman Marcus, where in store boutiques are present, however, on a mush smaller scale. For example, Neiman’s might have a Chanel boutique and a Gucci boutique, but Printemps has at least 50 designer boutiques/sections.

Couture designer salons in Paris are specific to Europe. We, in America, do not have these couture salons because we do not have couture in America. However, in France the couture is located inside the designer boutiques. For example, Dior has a section strictly with couture, which is only attainable visibly by setting up an appointment with a Dior representative. Not just anyone can go in and view couture. This is the same with Chanel, Celine, and Prada.
France also has stores that Americans recognize and tend to go to for a feel of home. However, the stores layouts, selections, and displays vary from the same stores in America. McDonalds is a traditional fast food restaurant that is present in France as well as in the US. The same golden arches logo is used and most of the same food is used. However, there are many differences. The actual restaurant is larger than in America, most of them being two stories in France. Also, McDonalds in Europe does not use paper, cardboard boxes, or other environmentally friendly materials to wrap up their sandwiches. Instead, they use the Styrofoam containers to serve sandwiches, which the US used in the 1980’s but is no longer used. Also, there are no free refills on sodas as there are in America. Ice is also scarce when a soda is ordered, whereas in America, the cup is filled to the top with ice. There is no “drive thru” at McDonalds either. This is a large part of McDonalds in America. Finally, the menu is extremely modified. For example, there are about 5 meals to choose from.

Another store that is present in the US as well as in France is the make-up and fragrance store Sephora. The design of the store is the same as in America, with black lacquered shelving as well as blood red carpeting. Also, the products are broken up by brand and many of the brands offered in the US are offered in France. However, there are a few differences in products offered. For example, Clinique is offered at Sephora, where as in America, Clinique is strictly a department store brand. American brands, such as Clinique and Bobbi Brown, are much more expensive in France than in America. There is also a larger sales staff on the floor than in the American Sephora stores.

A classically American store that is present in France is Gap. Gap is a traditional American store that offers American clothing staples such as khakis, jeans, and button up shirts. The Gap in France has the same clothes as in America as well as the same general layout; men’s, women’s, accessories, fragrances. However, the Gap in France is 4 floors, while in the US the store is usually one floor. There is also a large sitting area on each floor with stacks of fashion books to read. This is not present in the American Gap; they want the consumer in the store buying, not lounging and reading. There is also a larger selection of clothes, which is due to the larger square footage of the store.

Kentucky Fried Chicken, or, KFC is also an American business located in France. Some things similar to the French KFC and the American KFC are things like ice in soft drinks, value meals, and a general theme of fried chicken. However, there were some substantial differences. For instance, there are no biscuits offered, which is usually a given at an American KFC. There are also no free refills for soft drinks. There is however ample outside seating under umbrellas as well as a very large store area.

Planet Hollywood is another American based business that appears in Europe. Planet Hollywood has the same general celebrity/cinematic theme in both countries as well as the same type of souvenir shop. The food served was also similar to the kind of food served at Planet Hollywood’s in the US. However, one large difference was that the tip was included into the check; this is usually not done in America. Also, the service took much longer and there were not free refills on soft drinks.
One type of store that is plentiful in Paris is the fabric store. They are all bunched together on the outskirts of the city next to Sac ra Cur. One fabric store, Reine, was 4 floors of fabric and notions. Fabric stores in America are generally one floor. There are elevators on each floor as well as sales people on each floor. Another similarity to American fabric stores is that the sales person cuts the fabric for the customer. However, they do not use the same measurements as we do, they use meters. The customer also has to buy a minimum meter of fabric in order to buy it. In America, the consumer can buy as little or as much fabric as they want. Another difference is that the fabric is cut wherever it is located. In other words, the sales person comes to you to cut it, not the other way around as in the US.

Samaritan, as aforementioned, has a fabric and notions section. For the ribbon displays, they are displayed by color, which makes it easy for the customer to target in on their color and type. This usually is not done in American fabric stores, as the ribbon is usually separated by width and type. Another unique aspect is that it is located in a department store, something that is not found in American department stores. The sales personnel at Samaritan cut fabric and ribbon in the same fashion as other fabric stores in Paris, which is that they come to you and cut it for you.

There are also stores that specifically have only notions. Petit Atelier is a store at Sac ra Cur that only sold ribbons, buttons, and other decorative notions. The ribbon is displayed by color and the buttons by shape and color. Also, there is not cash register, instead, they person who cuts the ribbons or gets the buttons come back with a calculator and adds up the amount owed. In the US, cash registers are used to ring up consumer’s purchases.

Discount stores like TJ Maxx and Marshalls are evident in the US. Europe, however, has its own version of discount stores. One store, Moutan a Cina Patten, is store that sells discount clothes. There are name brands such as Diesel, Nike, as are offered in US discount stores. Also, as in the US, there are dressing rooms and sales personnel present to assist the customer. However, the clothes are presented differently that they are in the US. At Moutan a Cina Patten, the clothes are wadded up and thrown into bins. Some of the clothes also appear dirty. In the US, we display our discount clothes on racks and they are divided up into categories and subcategories.

Another discount store is Jyre Stock. There is only one department, which is clothing. In the US there are generally several departments. There are clothes such as Dolce and Gabanna and Diesel offered at low cost. The store however, is very small, crowded, and with no walking space. The clothes are also very unorganized. In America, we tend to take pride in our discount stores by keeping them neat and they are usually larger stores.

Space, in the suburbs of Florence Italy, is a different kind of discount. Space sells accidents, or imperfected Prada, Helmut Land, and Jil Sander. The store is located in an industrial/office park with no advertisement whatsoever. The store, however, is set up like a high-end boutique, which displays, modern fixtures, and nice merchandise. The only store similar to this in America would be Saks Off Fifth, which also does displays and has nice merchandise. They also offer up to 70% off of the original retail price, as does Space. Space, however, has a much nicer interior than US stores like Nordstrom Rack and Off Fifth. The sales personnel are also very helpful. One unique aspect of this store is that the consumer takes a number outside, and this is their customer id number. When the customer wants something, they sales personnel put all their merchandise behind the counter and put the customer’s number on it. This way the customer does not have to carry everything around and it also makes it easier for the sales person to ring them up. This is a unique tactic that is not used in US discount stores, or any store for that matter.

Another business that is present in Europe in the banking business. There are banks on the streets, like in America, with ATM’s outside, like in America. However, there are some significant differences in the way a customer would gain access to a bank. For example, at Les Credits de l’Union de Banques a Paris, the customer must ring a buzzer to get in the door. Once in the door, that one must close and another buzzer is pressed to get into the final door. This is specifically for security purposes. This is not done in the US. In America, anyone can walk into a bank with out any employees noticing or without pressing any kinds of buttons; this is specific to France. Once inside this specific bank, it looks like any bank in America, with tellers behind a long counter, banking assistants in glass offices, and brochures for financial planning on display.

Another bank on the Champs-Elyesses has the same entrance system. But instead of having tellers, there is only one window with one person behind it. This specific bank’s purpose is to change out money. There is also a large lounge area with leather couches and magazines. This is much nicer than in American banks, where there are only a few rigid chairs with two- year old copies of Southern Living.

Grocery shopping in France is rather unique. There are several corner markets, which sell fresh fruit and vegetables, snacks, water, and beer. These are handy for people who live in the neighborhood. In America, we do not have any of these present. All we have are large chain grocery stores. There is one grocery store called Inno. Inno is a grocery store that also carries home goods and clothing. It is comparable to an American Wal-Mart. The groceries are located on the bottom level of the store and there are general departments, such as produce, snacks, etc., as in the US grocery. However, the customer must pay for their shopping cart. The one Euro is received back after the cart has been returned. There is also a specific escalator for the shopping carts. This is because the store has 3 floors, thus the consumer can take their cart with them to each floor. A significant difference between groceries stores in the US and in France is that the customer has to bag their own groceries. This is also true and the grocery store Le Marche. In America, there are “baggers” at the grocery store that perform this service for us.

Ultimately, France has a unique approach to retailing. There are some similarities to American retailing. However, the ultimate universal goal of retailing, or of any business, is to make a profit. Geographic segmentation, demographics, and overall culture determine the approaches used to attain this goal.

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