PARIS — The fast-fashion blitzkrieg of the last five years has revolutionized the European retail scene, practically steamrolling independent retailers, according to a new study conducted by France’s Institute Francaise de la Mode, or IFM.
“France, Spain and Germany have been the most affected,” explained Evelyne Chaballier, who spearheaded the study. “Distribution channels have concentrated around the fashion-forward chains. The number of independent retailers is in free-fall almost everywhere in Europe.”
According to Chaballier’s study, independent retailers in Europe lost 9 percent of their total market share in the period between 1993 and 2001. Meanwhile, specialized chains — fueled by aggressive rollouts by the likes of Spain’s Zara and Sweden’s Hennes & Mauritz — gained 8 percent. Department stores remained flat, while hypermarkets, like Carrefour, gained 1 percent. Mail order lost 1 percent.
As a whole, Europe is steadily approaching the American model, where department stores and specialty chains hold 81 percent of overall market share. Great Britain, with the largest number of department stores in Europe, has a 77 percent concentration rate; France has 69 percent and Germany has 63 percent concentrated among department and specialty retailers.
There is an exception: Italy. Specialized retailers and department stores there account for only 29 percent of overall clothing sales. “Italy still has an independent retailing culture,” explained Chaballier. “They have a strong fashion culture. Italian men, unlike men elsewhere in Europe, buy clothes.”
Still, Chaballier said the tables could turn in Italy, where Zara has recently opened its first unit, and where H&M is actively pursuing its own invasion. “Their distribution culture faces a direct threat,” she said. “Italian retailing has been nurtured by the local clothing manufacturing industry. Independent retailers could also suffer as more textile manufacturing moves overseas.”
Chaballier, nonetheless, said the future of independent retailing in Europe would not be as bleak in the near term. She said that the profusion of chains has sparked a movement among consumers back toward more personalized shopping environments.
“This is especially true in France and Great Britain,” she said. “Small fashion brands are making a comeback. The trend among consumers — who are tiring of uniform retail environments — is a slow move back toward independent distribution channels.”
Meanwhile, the study revealed differences in apparel spending among various Europeans in 2000. Greek households, which spent on average 8.9 percent of their revenue on clothes, led the pack. Italy, with a 7.3 percent coefficient, was second, followed by Portugal, 6.6 percent; Germany, 5.6 percent; the U.K., 5.1 percent; Spain, 5 percent; Belgium, 4.4 percent, and France, 3.9 percent. Households in the U.S. spend 4.7 percent of their income on clothes, according to the study.
Deflation must be taken into account, however, and Chaballier acknowledged that the figures were somewhat deceptive. Although France rang in last, she claimed French women buy as many clothes as their German counterparts. She said prices in France are lower and that men spend less money on clothes.
“In general, though, clothing prices are decreasing across the board,” said Chaballier. “The moderate market is gaining ground while the better-priced category is losing steam. Most Europeans are buying smaller pieces.”