FRANCE — While business in France has picked up after last year’s devastating three-week general strike leading up to Christmas, most retailers report that sales this year have been flat or off, or in the best cases, inching up.
At the 27-door Parfumerie Kleber group, January sales were flat, while at the Bon Marche department store, the beauty department was up 2 percent, which buyer Marie-Francoise Stouls considered a good performance.
Retailers are looking to a spate of launches to boost spring sales, including Estee Lauder’s DayWear, which arrived in stores at the end of February. Other new entries include Shiseido’s Benefiance, an 11-stockkeeping-unit treatment line targeted to consumers with mature skin, and Helena Rubinstein’s Eye-Vinca eye contour cream. Both arrive on counters this month.
Many of last year’s launches continue to perform well. Lancome’s Primordiale and Clarins’s Multi-Regenerante Jour are leading the pack of recent introductions in French stores, according to retailers. Both were launched last fall and shot to the top of bestseller lists, where they have remained. But at some stores, older entries are winning out. For example, at Marcel Frydman’s 44-door La Parfumerie chain, Lancome’s 1992 antiwrinkle and firming Renergie cream was the top item in January in the treatment category. And at both La Parfumerie and Parfumerie Kleber, Clarins’s Multi-Active Jour — introduced in 1988 — leads in the facial cream category, topping sales of Multi-Regenerante Jour.
In addition, Christian Dior’s Capture Rides, the brand’s first alpha-hydroxy acid entry, and Clinique’s Moisture On-Call have made strong showings here. Clinique backed its entry this year with an aggressive advertising campaign that included print, radio and outdoor advertising. The brand invested in 13,000 posters in France and 120,000 miniatures.
At Frydman’s chain, Moisture On-Call was the fourth best-selling cream in January, while at the Bon Marche flagship in Paris, Stouls said that it had “dynamized” Clinique’s business. Another product that’s turning heads is Rubinstein’s Force C anti-aging serum, formulated with pure Vitamin C. While French retailers were divided on its sell-through, many praised its marketing mix: eye-catching bright orange packaging and store displays and an opening price point under $20 (100 francs). At the Bon Marche, acid-based products are still doing well, and Lauder is the number one brand, said Stouls. She cited Lauder’s Fruition, Clinique’s Turnaround Cream and Sisley’s Hydraflash as strong sellers. Stouls also observed that most new products are being priced lower than the bulk of what’s on the market — and since growth is generated by new products, it doesn’t help overall sales volume, she added. Eric Bourriot, an assistant manager at the Parfumerie Kleber, said that in spite of prestige firms’ efforts to keep prices down, clients keep defecting to the mass market. “Women are incredibly informed these days about skin care, and everyone knows that mass market products are good. There’s no shame in buying mass products anymore,” he said. In addition, many brands (including Christian Dior, which started the trend) have moved to ban retailers from running deep discounts on their products — usually interpreted to mean anything over 15 percent. Some retailers who complied with the new rules say that they have lost sales because customers have gotten used to big discounts. As a result, Dior is lowering the price of its popular anticellulite product, Svelte, from 240 francs to 210 francs for a 200-ml bottle. “Everyone sold it discounted anyway,” observed Stouls, who noted that French women don’t like paying much more than 200 francs for cellulite creams. At the Printemps flagship in Paris, executives credit Svelte with Dior’s 63 percent increase in sales at the store last year. This pushed the brand to third in Printemps’s selective distribution treatment ranking, up from seventh place in 1994. There was such a run on Svelte at the Printemps flagship — especially from Japanese tourists — that the store was forced to limit customers to three bottles.

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