PARIS — Government officials and retailers across France were scrambling Monday to calculate the economic impact of a series of protests that have gripped the country and severely disrupted consumption during the crucial end-of-year period, casting a cloud on projections for future business.
In a televised speech, French President Emmanuel Macron ended his silence on the so-called “yellow vest” movement Monday evening and moved to contain the damage by pledging a series of measures aimed at raising living standards, such as increasing the minimum wage by around 100 euros a month.
“The events of recent weeks in [mainland France] and overseas territories have profoundly troubled the nation,” he said, speaking on television station France 2. Declaring a state of economic and social emergency, Macron referred to the events over the month as a mix of legitimate demands with a descent into “unacceptable violence.”
Initially sparked by anger at a fuel tax, sporadic demonstrations and road blockages grew as the movement tapped into broader discontent over declining economic conditions, and suddenly evolved into violent street battles between protesters and police. The Avenue des Champs Élysées resembled a war zone, with images of burning vehicles, broken shop windows and looting in a haze of teargas from canisters fired by police. As tensions mounted, the city emptied out ahead of another round of protests planned for last Saturday, with museums and monuments shutting their doors while shopkeepers and banks boarded up windows. Department stores on Boulevard Haussmann, Galeries Lafayette and Printemps, along with their cross-town rival Le Bon Marché, all closed that day, as well as all of the boutiques belonging to luxury groups Kering and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire estimated the country’s economic growth will slow down and lowered the GDP growth projection by 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter.
The loss in retail sales throughout France since the beginning of the movement, Nov. 17, could reach around 1 billion euros, according to Jacques Creyssel, who heads the Fédération des entreprises du commerce et de la distribution, or FCD, an association of retailers. The country’s shopping centers, meanwhile, represented by the Conseil National des Centres Commerciaux, noted Saturday marked the largest decline in traffic since the beginning of the movement, down 17 percent.
“For the first time, shopping malls in city centers registered the steepest decline at more than 20 percent,” the association added, citing violence in cities such as Bordeaux, Toulouse and Saint-Étienne.
While many retailers said it was too early to assess the economic losses from Saturday’s closures, or to tell how much business was recovered the rest of the week, they noted rising concern over how long the crisis would last, as well as how much tourism could be affected.
“We had a very good Friday and a very good Sunday, with, obviously, a very significant loss of activity on Saturday,” said a spokesperson for Galeries Lafayette.
“It was a quiet Sunday,” said Edouard Lefebvre, general manager of the Comité des Champs Élysées. He expressed concern about what kind of retail landscape lies ahead.
“Each weekend we lose tourists, who are always pleased to come to Paris one day, but since there are demonstrations they think ‘Why not go next year, next month, another time?’ so they postpone their trip until things calm down,” he said. Lefebvre estimates the protests have caused an 80 percent drop in sales during the disrupted weekends, although damage on the Champs-Élysées was limited to two shops Saturday.
“Since Paris is ‘eternal,’ Paris will always be Paris — there is never urgency to come visit Paris,” he noted.
Responding to a question over whether consumers were taking their purchases online and producing a surge in Internet sales in France, Amazon declined to provide details, but offered a general comment about the period.
“As is customary for us, the end-of-the-year holiday season is a period of strong activity for us,” the e-commerce giant said in an emailed statement.