On 23 September, the French tribunal de grande instance, a Civil Court, ruled that the LVMH-owned fragrance and cosmetics chain Sephora couldn’t open its Champs Elysées store after 9pm. For the past 17 years, the store had opened until midnight Monday to Thursday, and until 1am on Fridays and Saturdays.
The case was brought to court by the unions, despite heavy criticism for it from both management and employees. Firstly because they argued 20% of their revenue was made during night opening hours as tourists walked the Avenue, and secondly because they complained it would require a reshuffle of their schedules. Public radio France Inter interviewed a female employee who explained evening shifts worked for her because it enabled her to look after her sister’s children. Fifty employees even turned up to the hearing to support Sephora’s late night openings.
Sephora management wasn’t the only ones who deplored the ruling. “The laws sometimes have to be open to the new world, and the new world is business that never stops,” Ventes-privées entrepreneur Jacques-Antoine Granjon said in a phone interview with The Business of Fashion on 8 October. “Where there is a need and where you have people who are ready to work, they should let them work.”
Granjon takes advantage of the no-Sunday work unless you are in the food industry law: his website is the third most visited in France, right behind Amazon and eBay. However, online shopping only works for people living in France, rather than for one of its first economy drivers: tourism.
France needs to allow evening and Sunday work in luxury stores because tourists, who come to the country to buy its fashion and high-end goods, don’t care about French labour laws. If they can’t shop Printemps, they’ll shop Harrods or 10 Corso Como instead.
When Zadig & Voltaire first opened on Sloane Street, as a good little French brand, it was closed on Sunday, as I discovered one day,whilst doing my Christmas shopping. I went to the King’s Road instead, where all the stores were open. Zadig & Voltaire’s opening hours anomaly didn’t last long, although many luxury Sloane Street stores, such as Chanel and Saint Laurent, still close on Sundays.
According to the weekly French management magazine Challenges, the grands magasins (department stores) generated 5 billion euros in revenue last year, mainly thanks to tourists, including Chinese customers who made up over 40 million customers in 2012. In Nice, on the Mediterranean, tourists account for 40% of local department stores turnover.
Golden Week, the Chinese national holiday during which shoppers come to Europe en masse, has just ended. Last year, during that first week of October, one million Chinese customers came to Paris, over 800,000 more than the number who came to London according to a Business of Fashion interview with Gordon Clark, the UK managing director of shopping tourism company Global. Although many come with tour operators who would take into account department store opening hours, the lack of Sunday business is surely a miss for companies relying more and more heavily on tourist spending.
I am not suggesting store management forces employees to work Sundays. It should be a choice. Labour laws provide financial incentives for people who elect to work nights or weekends, and days off are given later in the week. My summer student jobs included cleaning up the local hospital where I enjoyed working weekends or late shifts because the salary was significantly increased, and I got time off on weekdays instead.
The Sunday work debate is representative of France’s current attempts to become more competitive without giving up any of its workers hard-earned social advantages, including the 35-hour working week. Buying French fashion in France holds a certain cachet (not to mention lower taxes and therefore prices than in many other countries), which the country needs continue to champion in order for the luxury industry to survive and flourish.