By guest author Kristen Bateman from Vogue Business
The century-old retailer’s Champs-Élysées in Paris, France, concept store has become a fashion destination.
- Galeries Lafayette Champs-Élysées has drawn a fashion-forward French crowd to a tourist-heavy neighbourhood with exclusive product drops and cultural events.
- The retailer is the sole French bricks-and-mortar location for many cult designers and direct-to-consumer brands.
- Its average customer is just 31, which is younger than the typical French online shopper.
On a Saturday afternoon in October, Galeries Lafayette on the Champs-Élysées was bustling with young, French-speaking customers. It was an unusual sight for a department store located on one of Paris’s most touristic thoroughfares.
But this edition of Galeries Lafayette, which opened in late March, is not a typical Parisian department store. At roughly 70000 square feet, the space is only a fraction of the size of the 107-year-old Avenue Haussmann flagship that bears the same name. With its sleek design — art deco meets Scandinavian minimalism — and unique selection of brands, it is more similar in feel to the late, beloved concept store Colette.
“It’s fun to see; it’s like an experience,” said 17-year-old Yumi Liberman, who is half-French and was shopping with her Parisian relatives. “It’s not just a normal mall.”
Yumi’s father said he was surprised when she requested a trip to Galeries Lafayette on her visit to Paris. He hadn’t been to the Champs-Élysées store yet but thought of the Haussmann location as a place for older people.
Near a pop-up collection of products illustrated by the visual artist Jean Jullien, which included skateboards, bottles of olive oil and €30 decks of cards, a group of teens from near Nantes said they came to see a different style of clothing they couldn’t find elsewhere. Parisians Cindy Lavalée, 26, and Sarah Halbeeda, 27, said they typically visit the Haussmann location because it is larger and has more choice, but they said they wanted to check out the Champs-Élysées site. They’d heard it had something different to offer.
The challenges facing large, designer fashion-led department stores are no secret. But Groupe Galeries Lafayette, which owns brands like La Redoute and BHV/Marais and operates more than 60 stores in eight countries, has launched this concept store from a position of relative strength. The family-owned firm did €4.5 billion in 2018 sales, up from €3.8 billion in 2017. It invests €150 million annually in its global store network and is planning to open 10 more stores in China by 2025.
Catering to locals
At Citron, the first-floor cafe by Jacquemus and fashion favourite Caviar Kaspia, shoppers sat down for Instagram-worthy patisseries. Some customers were working on their laptops in the natural sunlight. Near the Xi’An counter, by La Taverne de Zhao, Bryan Brown, 22, and Hamouda Abdelkader El-Moula, 23, both from Paris, were having a snack with friends. They said they only ever visit Galeries Lafayette’s Champs-Élysées location.
Official data indicates that just over 30 per cent of store visitors have been French, with US and Chinese shoppers making up about 8 per cent each. But Clara Cornet, creative and merchandising director at Galeries Lafayette Champs-Élysées, estimates that the majority of the remaining visitors are French who don’t want to disclose their nationality.
The store carries over 650 fashion, beauty and lifestyle brands and manages to draw French shoppers due to the scale of recognisable brands on offer. Product drops — particularly when they are exclusive to Galeries Lafayette Champs-Élysées — also lead to a spike in the number of Parisians visiting. “Whenever we get a Nike drop, we go up to 80 per cent locals,” says Cornet. “[That] is something I’m very proud of because it shows that we became this location for the local kids.”
Experience-driven retail, often related to food, is also part of the allure. While the Champs-Élysées is known primarily as a shopping district, only 23 per cent of visitors to the area come to shop, according to the Comité Champs-Élysées, a neighbourhood group.
Unlike the flagship store, Galeries Lafayette Champs-Élysées has hosted concerts with Belgian rappers attended by 500 people, as well as events like one where artist Andre Saraiva painted live and then stayed on to sign merchandise for hours. The store has at least one public event per week and a minimum of two daily events during fashion week. “There are lots of events here,” Brown said. “The other day, they had Batman; I was there, it was cool.”
The Champs-Élysées is such a tourist destination that many Parisians actively avoid the area. Galeries Lafayette claims that 300000 people transverse the avenue daily — most of them tourists — but that it has also found success getting French shoppers to visit. This diversification may be wise: Chinese shoppers reportedly account for a third of sales across all of Galeries Lafayette’s Paris outlets, and many of them stayed away after the late 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris.
The store declined to provide financial figures, but Cornet says the events pay off commercially. “I’ve strongly believed in building an entertainment part of the store,” says Cornet. “[The events are] driving sales and increasing conversion rates. It shows that we’re driving the right people in the right direction.”
“More so than the brands and products it sells, the store has become a cultural hub and destination,” says David Blair, global CEO of retail consultancy Fitch, which does not have a commercial relationship with Galeries Lafayette. “[It is] a leading example of a department store capitalising on the consumer desire for engaging experiences and a purposeful destination, where retail transactions are only a by-product of the overall experience.”
A showcase for products
In September, the store celebrated Batman’s 80th anniversary by fully transforming the space into a Gotham City-like space. Galeries Lafayette Champs-Élysées redesigned its façade, so it looked like the character’s space and showcased a replica of the Batmobile from Tim Burton’s 1989 film. The store also implemented exclusive collaborations with fashion brands such as Pierre Hardy, which created Batman-themed shoes and Suicoke, which released limited-edition Batman pool slides. There was also a Batman-themed Baba au rhum cake available in the food court.
Such activations draw a substantial amount of emerging brands and products to exclusively retail at Galeries Lafayette Champs-Élysées. It is the first-and-only French point of sale for Cecilie Bahnsen, whom American Vogue called “Copenhagen’s most decorated and recognised designer”, and the only French retailer to carry Sam McKnight’s hairspray. The retailer has also partnered with brands whose French business is largely direct-to-consumer, including Réalisation Par and Thinx, which is the only underwear brand sold at the Champs-Élysées shop.
“The Galeries Lafayette offer seemed to be the most interesting, due to their selection of brands,” says Rouje founder Jeanne Damas. “More than clothes, we want to offer an experience, a lifestyle. Les Galeries let us represent our own universe.”
Such partnerships allowed Galeries Lafayette Champs-Élysées to attract the coveted young shopper who initially discovers these brands through social media. Company data indicate that the store’s average customer is just 31 years old, which makes their shopper younger than the average online consumer in France, according to Webinterpret, a French e-commerce services provider “Since we’ve opened our doors… we’ve seen an exciting appetite for emerging and discovering brands,” says Cornet. “That brands that don’t have any points of sale are the ones that go through the door the quickest.”
“The treatment of the store as a retail lab will set them apart from the competition, in France and across Europe,” adds Fitch’s Blair. “The key to its success is being proactive about the information it collects and using it to constantly improve and adapt its offer, combining the worlds of URL and real world, to create continual reinvention that drives footfall and reasons to return. What we see now is just the beginning.”
Portia Crowe contributed reporting from Paris.