PARIS — France may finally be showing signs of economic improvement as it heads into the holiday season: Despite the downbeat climate of recent months, 40 percent of the country’s consumers are planning to spend more this holiday season, according to a study by Accenture.
Fifty-one percent said they are planning to maintain spending levels, Accenture found in its first survey of consumer sentiment for the holidays in France. Only 9 percent said they are planning to reduce spending.
“I was very surprised by consumers’ positive attitude and the desire to consume that emerged in these results,” said Alexandre Bres, managing director of Accenture’s retail practice.
“It shows a form of optimism about households’ financial situation. The context in France has been morose, with growth levels lower than anticipated. INSEE [the French National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies] recently lowered its forecasts again to 1.3 percent GDP growth, and we have been through a period of doubt, so this positivity is a strong sign,” he added.
Accenture surveyed 1,000 French consumers, who disclosed an average holiday spending budget of 607 euros, or $643.50 at current exchange, of which 52 percent will be spent on gifts, and 48 percent on festive food and drink. No comparative figure for 2015 was available.
Sixty-one percent of consumers planned to dedicate their budgets to apparel their budgets, while 47 percent planned to spend on accessories, Accenture said. The top category was toys and other gifts at 64 percent.
Consumers surveyed said they were largely attentive to shopping around for the best deals, with 62 percent purchasing in several stores and online and comparing prices before purchase. More than two-thirds said they would visit Amazon before searching and buying.
Forty-nine percent of those surveyed said they would do the majority of their shopping in physical stores, with 36 percent planning to purchase online. Some 60 percent said they were willing to part with their personal information to get better deals, a surprising result given the importance of privacy among the French. While e-commerce still accounts for a smaller part of the pie compared with markets such as the U.S. and U.K., Bres said, it is growing.
In addition, 77 percent of consumers said they were influenced in their buying decisions by social media, although purchasing through social channels still remains extremely low at 5 percent, Bres said.
Consumer sentiment in France has been heavily impacted by high unemployment and the sluggish economy for several years. According to INSEE data, consumer spending fell 0.5 percent in the third quarter of 2016 compared with the prior-year period.
Spending on textiles fell 0.3 percent year-on-year. Consumer spending was flat in the second quarter and grew 1.5 percent in the first, while apparel sales fell 0.6 percent in the second quarter and grew 1.6 percent in the first.
Research into e-commerce in France by Mediametrie/NetRatings commissioned by the Federation for E-commerce and Mail Order Sales, or Fevad, found that nine out of 10 French web users research their holiday purchases online, while more than 70 percent, or 32 million people, buy their gifts through e-commerce, up two million from a year ago.
A third of those surveyed planned to purchase apparel, footwear and accessories online, while 32 percent intended to buy beauty products, a marked increase of five percentage points year-on-year.
Black Friday, barely known in Europe until a few years ago, is taking hold in France, with online and off-line retailers advertising heavy promotions during the week before Nov. 25. According to data from market research and data-collection firm Toluna for retail trade publication LSA, 18.2 percent of French consumers intend to purchase during this promotional period, up 3 percent year-on-year.
Of these, 78 percent plan on benefiting from promotions to buy gifts. Apparel is the most sought-after category, with more than half of consumers searching for bargains on textiles, while a third are looking for deals on cosmetics and fragrance, Toluna said.
“Black Friday is an operation that is more and more appealing to French consumers, even though it remains better known in the U.S. and European countries like the U.K. and Spain,” said Toluna managing director Philippe Guilbert. “Discounts need to be deep — from minus 40-60 percent — in order to attract bargain hunters and to convince more reluctant consumers.”