By Dominique Vidalon
PARIS (Reuters) – High-end French department store Galeries Lafayette will open a new outlet on Paris’s Champs Elysees this week, aiming to lure big-spending tourists and trendy Parisians back to the tree-lined avenue that was once a byword for style.
The opening comes as top-tier department stores are increasingly trying to pitch themselves as day-trip destinations to counter competition from online rivals such as Amazon and Net-a-Porter.com.
“The store is a retail laboratory where we will test new practices,” said Nicolas Houze, head of the family-owned Galeries Lafayette group, which also owns retailer BHV Marais.
“It is a symbol of our ongoing transformation into an omni-channel retail leader,” he said of the March 28 opening.
The four-story, 6,500-square-metre (70,000 square feet) store, in an Art Deco building once home to a Virgin megastore, will sell edgy fashion brands such as RouJe, Walk of Shame and Mira Mikati, as well as top-end labels from Gucci to Chanel.
The store, at 60 Champs Elysees, has recruited and trained 300 tech-savvy personal stylists to advise shoppers on the range of fashion, accessory, beauty and lifestyle brands on offer.
The opening comes at a difficult time, however, with the Champs Elysees repeatedly targeted by the “yellow vest” protest movement that has rocked France, with windows smashed, stores looted and buildings set on fire this month.
The historic avenue has also been battling for years to put itself back at the heart of the Paris fashion map – many locals avoid the Champs Elysees, seeing it as a tourist trap for its 300,000 daily visitors.
As well as the shopping, the new Galeries Lafayette will offer an upmarket food court, a coffee lounge, a restaurant and “smart hanger” technology, giving shoppers information about product availability and fitting rooms with natural light.
Both Galeries Lafayette and rival Printemps are trying to capitalise on a rebound in Paris’ tourism industry, which was hit hard by a wave of militant attacks in 2015. Both cater heavily to shoppers and tourists from Asia.
Galeries Lafayette’s move has been welcomed by France’s finance minister, who sees it as a vote of confidence in central Paris at a challenging time.
“The Champs Elysees are standing up again,” said Bruno Le Maire. “They are stronger than all of this violence, which is unacceptable and must stop as it hurts the attractiveness of our country.”
The store, designed by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, is a tenth of the size of the group’s flagship one on Boulevard Haussmann, which draws 60,000 to 80,000 visitors a day, half of them foreign tourists, notably Chinese.
Houze sees the Champs Elysees store as a complement to the headquarters, whose revenue rose 2 percent to 2 billion euros (1.71 billion pounds) last year. The new store hopes to draw 10,000-15,000 visitors per day.
Founded in the late 1800s, Galeries Lafayette has 61 stores in France and abroad. It opened a second store in Shanghai last weekend and has plans to open 10 more across China in the coming three to four years, Houze said.
(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Luke Baker and Mark Potter)