By  on November 8, 2013

PARIS — Absent from e-commerce until now, Printemps said it hopes to generate at least 10 percent of its sales from the channel within three to four years.

“We believe the French market is at a tipping point,” Printemps chairman and chief executive officer Paolo de Cesare said here Friday. “Customers want to have an experience online, and in a physical store.”

Last month, Printemps acquired French fashion e-commerce site Place des Tendances from media firm TF1 Group, and de Cesare said it would be its main vehicle in the online world.

Founded in 2008, the site sells about 200 contemporary and high-street brands, more than half of which are already represented on the third and fourth floors of Printemps’ Boulevard Haussmann flagship.

At a press conference, de Cesare flashed slides showing French fashion sales have declined 14.4 percent since 2007, with physical retail stores down almost a quarter in the same period. The sobering data from the French Fashion Institute, or IFM, contrast with a continual uptick in online fashion sales, estimated to account for 12 to 13 percent of all fashion sales this year.

Meanwhile, pure online players, which currently hold a 41 percent market share in France — versus 28 percent for multichannel players — are getting squeezed out.

In the U.K., a more advanced online marketplace, multichannel players hold a 73 percent market share, versus 14 percent for pure players.

De Cesare said this new axis of development would further plump Printemps’ revenues, which have gained 45 percent over the past five years as it ramped up its luxury assortments and upgraded stores.

He noted that its young and sporty retail banner, Citadium, launched e-commerce in September 2012 and that online sales already represent 6 percent of the total.

In lieu of building an online store for Printemps from scratch, de Cesare opted to acquire a fast-growing online player with a “business model coherent with our positioning.”

Billing itself as a department store online, Place des Tendances sells current-season merchandise and full assortments for women and men at boutique prices. Its brand stable includes such names as Acne, Maje, Bellerose, Vanessa Bruno, Calvin Klein and Naf Naf. Services include free delivery, and within three hours for Paris addresses, along with a call center staffed with people who can act as personal shoppers.

De Cesare said the aim is to double the volume of Place des Tendances, currently about 25 million euros, or $33.8 million at current exchange, in three to four years, leveraging Printemps’ expertise in digital marketing, client services and editorial production.

The executive said the company would gauge consumer reaction before deciding whether to convert or somehow merge the placedestendances.com and printemps.com sites.

Printemps Holding France SAS owns and operates 16 department stores plus lifestyle subsidiary Citadium. The retailer is under new ownership after French competition authorities this summer approved its acquisition by Qatari-backed investment fund Divine Investments SA, or Disa.

Next year, Printemps is to open a new location at the Carrousel du Louvre in Paris and at the Terrasses du Port in Marseille, along with a revamped location in Toulon. It will also take its Citadium banner national, de Cesare noted.

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