Shop ’til you drop

Precarious times can induce pleasurable measures. This spring in Paris, the Yellow Vest movement once again made headlines after damaging shops along the Champs Elysées, yet only days later the magnificent avenue saw the opening of the Galeries Lafayette department store. While it may seem like just another retail expansion in a world overly maxed-out by mega-stores, the move was something of a novelty for the French capital, which had seen nothing of this scale open for decades.

Indeed, Paris has always presented limitations in terms of its size, given its few available venues to host large stores. And since most of the city center is an inventory of heritage sites, it’s challenging to nurture contemporary retail emporia while respecting the city’s architectural code. There’s also the significant factor of economics; Paris, along with Hong Kong, London and New York, is one of the most expensive cities for commercial real estate in the world.

Traditionally, the city has relied on three iconic department stores: Le Bon Marché, Le Printemps and the Galeries Lafayette Haussmann. This equilibrium just shifted with the Champs Elysées opening, and will change again next year when La Samaritaine will reopen on the bank of the River Seine after more than a decade’s worth of renovations. Within a 12-month timespan, the retail scene will have changed more than it has in the past decade.

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Spot the trend? These openings echo the growing volume of sales to international travellers in Paris, which is not only one of the most visited cities in the world (with more than 17 million visitors per annum), but France also enjoys the highest average spend on duty-free goods by all travellers in Europe. That appetite for shopping, one continuing to grow from Asia, is putting a new spring in Paris’s retail step.

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