PARIS – Growing online trade, missing Asian customers: Covid-19 has forced department stores to reinvent themselves, such as Galeries Lafayette, which opened a huge wellness area in Paris on Thursday.
Pink earthenware, light shining from the sauna, comfortable bathrobes, a year ago absolute calm reigned in the shoe space. “And yet, we’re at Galerie Lafayette!”, laughed Carla Haddu. After opening the first store in the Parisian district of Maris, the founder of Belaime installed four sauna cabins in the basement of the flagship Galeries Lafayette, Boulevard Haussmann.
Massages, cryotherapy cabins, gym and sports classes, treatments, beauty products: the century-old store’s new wellness area covers 3,000 square meters, offering “50 percent products and 50 percent services” to customers who can afford it. “This is a strong sign of the new breath that we wanted to stimulate after Covid-19”, Alexandre Liot, the store’s director, explained to AFP.
This transition is a gamble: the basement level, or “below ground floor,” according to the signage, is traditionally the most visited, because the higher you go in a department store, the lower the attendance.
The group said it believes in the “strong potential” of the wellness market, which “occupies a growing place in consumer expectations”. According to the “Global Wellness Institute”, an organization that protects this sector in the United States, it weighed about 5,000 billion dollars in the world in 2019, which in 2025 it will reach 7,000 billion dollars.
“Strengthening the attractiveness of department stores, especially for local customers,” is also a challenge, analyzed Yohan Petiot, general manager of the Alliance du Commerce (department stores, clothing, footwear). Because if Paris sees tourist flows close to pre-pandemic levels, Asian visitors, especially Chinese, fond of tax-free shopping at department stores, are still absent. Selvan Mohandas du Menil of the IADS International Association of Large Stores said that all over the world, brands felt they “couldn’t just rely on tourist flows but had to move into the city centre”.
Arch rival Printemps announced a major brand overhaul in mid-March, notably through a new visual identity and new consumer “experience”. Here again, local clients are in the spotlight. Printemps has thus teamed up with Le Vieux Campeur, a famous store specializing in outdoor activities, and now offers a wider range of services. “Since the Covid-19 pandemic, we have noticed a real change in the behavior of customers, who visit the store less on foot. To build customer loyalty for the store and, for the brand”, observes Yohan Petiot.
“Capturing new customers”
At Galeries Lafayette, the “Wellness Gallery” is not quite finished. The sign hopes to gain strength from the start of the school year.
Alexandre Liot hopes to “capture a new clientele, perhaps what we see as an extension of our current beauty department”, betting, he says, on the best professionals in each category on offer.
Selven Mohandas du Menil also sees it as a way to respond to the growth of online sales: “Shopping online is a way to save time, while selling in stores is a way to sell you a way to spend your time”. For Yohann Petiot, the evolution reflects the model’s “extremely resilient” character in “perpetual transformation” to adapt to major revolutions in distribution, from supermarkets to e-commerce. (AFP)