Backlash prompts France to postpone Black Friday

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PARIS – The French government said on Friday it was postponing Black Friday as it tries to quell a nationwide rebellion of traders who say Amazon has stolen business from them during the coronavirus lockdown in France.Black Friday, the quasi-official kickoff of the Christmas shopping season, will be delayed by a week in France, to December 4, after the government snatches a deal from Amazon and the country’s largest retailers to delay their remittances in the country.

The move aims to level the playing field for booksellers, clothing stores and “non-essential” businesses that were forced to shut down on October 30 after a second nationwide lockdown was imposed, propelling consumers toward online sites, including Amazon.

Under the deal, large retailers agreed not to offer Black Friday sales promotions until Dec. 4 on condition the government allow small retailers – which have been waving since containment orders to reopen – to resume. their activities before that date. This would give smaller stores time to prepare to offer their own discounts when large competitors do.

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“Open or die,” said this week Yohann Petiot, managing director of Alliance du commerce en France, a trade group for businesses.

The spectacle of one of Europe’s largest countries scrambling to protect its retailers from Amazon highlights the difficulties governments face as they attempt to strike a balance between enforcing a second series of shutdowns amid pandemic fatigue and preventing retailers that don’t have the same deep pockets as big companies from collapsing into mass bankruptcies.

In France, the episode sparked a new reaction against the American web giant. Since arriving in 2000, Amazon has become a favorite in France, capturing almost half of online spending in 2019. Sales in France have jumped almost 50% from a year ago during the last lockdown, the company said.

But rapid growth has made Amazon the symbol of a dominant multinational corporation that critics say imports unwanted American-style consumerism as well as job instability and environmental degradation into the second-largest economy. of the euro zone.

Ahead of Friday’s announcement, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire and other politicians have urged buyers not to sell their business to Amazon.

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The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, circulated an online petition entitled “A Christmas without Amazon”. Addressed to Santa Claus, it engages the signatories of a “#ChristmasWithoutAmazon”, described as a tax evasion Grinch that destroys small businesses, jobs and the environment in France.

The virtual call to arms, however, was quickly the victim of an online hack that overloaded the website with forged signatures sent from over 200 servers, including hundreds of signatures on behalf of Jeff Bezos, managing director. from Amazon, with the comment: “Sorry, not sorry, Jeff. ”

The scramble by French politicians to appease the anger of small businesses has reopened a larger controversy over Black Friday itself, which wasn’t even an event in Europe until a few years ago, when it was inaugurated mainly by Amazon, which began to promote significant sales at the same time as those in the United States.

While American Thanksgiving is just another Thursday in Europe, Black Friday has flourished. In Britain, Spain and other countries, Amazon and other major retailers have already started offering Black Friday discounts online earlier this month.

France has been slower than other European countries to join the trend, and politicians have discouraged buyers from participating, warning of a “consumer frenzy” in which people are encouraged to buy products they don’t want to buy. do not need.

Yet Black Friday has been a crucial tool for retailers to increase sales. Last year, retailers in France achieved estimated sales of $ 7.1 billion around Black Friday.

Those sales are more crucial than ever this year as retailers have faced unprecedented losses from lockdowns linked to the pandemic. Although stores reopened from June to September, this was not enough to fully compensate for France’s first lockdown; Cumulative sales for the year are still, on average, 10% below their 2019 levels, according to an analysis by German bank Allianz.

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