* Big chains' apparel sales down 5-10 pct in first week of
* Sales at French upscale department stores stable
* Independent clothing stores' sales down more than 10 pct
By Pascale Denis
PARIS, Jan 14 French shoppers shunned the start
of the winter clearance sales season this year against a
background of a stalled economy, unseasonably mild weather and
competition from year-round promotions.
Retailers interviewed by Reuters said clothing sales fell 10
percent in the first week of the five-week winter ritual that
began on Jan. 8 and typically sees hopeful shoppers queue on the
first day outside big department stores like Galeries Lafayette
in the early morning before the main doors are thrown open.
The sales, whose timing is strictly regulated in France and
which run through Feb. 12, will test consumer confidence as
households avoid big purchases amid high unemployment and
dwindling purchasing power.
France has some of the strictest trading laws in Europe,
limiting sales to two five-week long periods in winter and
summer, in an effort to protect smaller retailers.
The euro zone's second biggest economy is showing tentative
signs of improvement, but mixed data releases suggest it is
recovering less quickly than some other European countries, such
as Germany and the United Kingdom.
Consumer spending, which on manufactured goods rose just 0.1
percent in November, is an important motor of the French
economy. France is set to eke out growth too weak to get
unemployment falling as President Francois Hollande has pledged.
"It's not good. Consumption remained sluggish and the
weather did not help," said Jean-Marc Genis, head of the FEH
clothing retail federation, which represents chains including
Etam, Zara and H&M.
Five-day revenue was down 5-10 percent on the year, he said.
The sales traditionally provide an important boost for
clothing stores, which often have a stock of winter clothes to
Discounts offered in the first days of sale were as high as
50 percent but year-round promotions have also taken the shine
off the clearance season.
"Since September, retailers have been beefing up their
revenue with promotions. This left shoppers with no room to keep
on spending in January," said retail analyst Aude de Moussac
from research firm Kurt Salmon.
Mild weather in December and early January also lowered
demand for heavy clothing, such as coats and jackets.
Bernard Morvan, head of the Federation Nationale de
l'Habillement, which represents nearly 45,000 independent
clothing stores, said sales in the women's ready-to-wear sector
fell more than 10 percent year-on-year in the first week.
At French department stores - which in big cities are more
resilient to the bleak climate due to their attractiveness to
foreign tourists and their focus on luxury goods - sales were
flat, said Claude Boulle, head of the UCV union that represents
stores such as Galeries Lafayette and Le Printemps.
At the Printemps Haussmann department store, where 40
percent of sales come from wealthy tourists from China and
Russia, sales were "ok, nothing more," Printemps group CEO Paolo
de Cesare said.
The Bank of France estimated this month that the economy
rebounded in the final quarter of 2013 after a slight
contraction in the previous three months. However, monthly
purchasing managers surveys suggest the private sector is still
seeing business activity weaken.
For a graphic: link.reuters.com/pef35s
(Reporting by Pascale Denis, Writing by Dominique Vidalon,
Editing by Alexandria Sage and Louise Heavens)