When France’s Workers Rise Up to Protest, Amazon Gets Busy

(Bloomberg) -- Tear-gassed protesters shielding their faces in front of a boarded-up Cartier boutique, department stores shuttered, picket marchers blocking entrances to suburban retail centers: welcome to holiday shopping in France.

A month of rowdy, sometimes destructive, protests against higher fuel taxes and low wages by the French Yellow Vests movement has scraped much of the luster off this year’s holiday spend-fest. And while government has responded with some worker-friendly policies, the country’s shoppers now have another reason to click over to online retailers like Amazon.com Inc.

When France’s Workers Rise Up to Protest, Amazon Gets Busy

It’s too soon for most companies to gauge the full impact; well-heeled buyers of luxury brands may fly to other outlets in London or Hong Kong, and local retailers see consumers making up for lost time as tensions calm. In the short term, however, it’s clear that the activists haven’t done their country’s brick-and-mortar retailers any favors.

“Go back to the small stores,” Labor Minister Muriel Penicaud pleaded with consumers Wednesday on French radio. “We are enriching American platforms like Amazon and killing the small businesses.”

Amazon, which doesn’t disclose sales by country, has had its warehouses targeted by some demonstrations, too. The Yellow Vests movement hasn’t had a major impact on its activities, the company said, and it’s working to assure timely deliveries.

“Our staff are at their posts to respond to the needs of our clients as they are any day,” Amazon said in an emailed statement. “As is the custom, the holiday season has been a very active period for us.”

Billion Euros Lost

As the Yellow Vests threaten a fifth weekend of disruptions, the French are losing the will to spend: sales sacrificed to the protests already exceed 1 billion euros ($1.14 billion), according to the national retail federation FCD. More than half of French people have changed Christmas shopping plans due to the protests, according to an Opinionway poll published Dec. 7, and one in five said they were ordering online for safety reasons.

In France, as elsewhere, more online shopping means more Amazon: With a 20 percent market share, the site is more than twice as popular as French runner-up Cdiscount, owned by the grocery chain Casino Guichard-Perrachon SA, according to data from Kantar Worldpanel.

The cyber-sales giant is seeking momentum in France, kicking off December with a glittering Christmas showroom in central Paris. Countering French resistance to paying for access to online shopping, Amazon sweetened its 49-euros-a-year Prime service with two-hour delivery in Paris from grocer Monoprix and more streamable French shows and movies.

As Seattle-based Amazon surges, grocer Carrefour SA stands to be among the hardest-hit French retailers, thanks to exposure to suburban hypermarkets that are already struggling against digitized rivals, Invest Securities analyst Christian Guyot said. Even in areas where shops remained open throughout the protests, video images of the violence are enough to move purchases online from big-box stores.

Help Coming

“The risk of accelerating the decline of the hypermarket format is far greater than the lost sales,” Guyot said.

Books-and-electronics specialist Fnac Darty SA -- which has held up to Amazon thanks to its popular warranty programs -- was also hurt on Saturdays, when the protests have reached their greatest intensity. Many clients have moved their shopping to Sundays or the chain’s webstores, a spokesman said.

The French government said it would deploy 8,000 police officers in Paris on Saturday as some Yellow Vests planned to protest again. As of Friday afternoon, the Galeries Lafayette chain said it hoped to keep its department stores open.

For retailers, help may be on the horizon. In addition to a promise of 100 euros a month in aid for workers and scrapping the fuel tax increase, President Emmanuel Macron is pushing companies to reward workers with tax-free bonuses this year. Companies including telecoms operator Orange SA, Louis Vuitton maker LVMH and Kering SA, the owner of Balenciaga and Yves Saint Laurent, have already signed on.

The measures will take time to be felt, but they represent around 10 billion euros of additional purchasing power that may help retailers rebound, Invest’s Guyot estimates.

“This won’t be without impact, obviously,” Guyot said. “We can’t say yet that all of this will end up in the consumer economy.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.