By Maura Carlin
Paraphrasing Audrey Hepburn, shopping in Paris is always a good idea. After all, the City of Lights is an acclaimed shopping city, where tourists and locals delight in fashion, among other things. Pages upon pages are written in travel guides, magazines, and websites about the best stores to shop, streets to stroll, and the like.
But it all begs one essential question: Is it any fun?
Ambling the Champs or Ave. Montaigne (no luxury boutiques along the Seine) arm in arm with your loved one, nibbling (or not) on that chocolate croissant, fills the romantic fantasy of many a trip to Paris. Visiting the home boutiques of Hermès, Coco Chanel, and Christian Dior, seeing oneself adorned in couture, or at least ready-to-wear, from these top brands, is part of the dream.
Unfortunately, the reality may be quite different. After more than two years of pent-up desire to travel, the city is packed with tourists. And shoppers.
Americans are high-tailing it to Europe this summer (despite exorbitant airfares) and taking advantage of the strong dollar vis-a-vis the euro. The big winners though are top luxury brands like Hermès and Louis Vuitton. Both reported surprisingly strong financial results for the first half of 2022, despite economic concerns and substantial health restrictions in China.
Read more on this topic:
Buying a Classic Chanel Flap at the Flagship in Paris and the Savings
Shopping Implications for the Dollar and Euro Approaching Parity
Printemps in Paris: My Goyard Tips, Reveal, and Experience
“Exceptional” Hermès Financial Results for First Half of 2022
As a result, the Paris shopping experience lately gives new meaning to the term “fashion line.” Not referring to a particular collection but instead to long queues into or within boutiques. These lines are measured in hours not minutes.
Even worse, the entire experience is a bit less French than French Revolution. Only the special may dine or shop. The rest can eat cake or face the proverbial fashion guillotine – shut out of top luxury items. Despite liberties with the historical facts, one begins to understand the roots of the uprising.
On a very simplistic level, the word luxury implies special and high caliber treatment. A state of great comfort and extravagant living, says an online dictionary app. Nothing about waiting in line for hours at a time fits that definition. We wait at the Department of Motor Vehicles, at the supermarket (or Costco), but for luxury shopping. Seriously???
In Paris, however, during the first week in June, shopping at Hermès, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Dior, and Goyard meant waiting. Not that happy anticipation of a special purchase. Rather, it was often physically impossible to shop whenever and wherever you wanted.
As written before, the Goyard store on Saint Honoré routinely kept patrons waiting two hours outside on the street. Requests online for an appointment were unanswered. In fairness, the boutique is petite and not well-suited for browsing crowds. On the other hand, surely there must be a better way.
Read: Printemps in Paris: My Goyard Tips, Reveal, and Experience
Shoppers at various Louis Vuitton and Dior (both under the LVMH umbrella) boutiques stood outside until security let them in. The Chanel boutiques operated slightly differently most of the time in that one could enter, but to get sales assistance for bags or shoes you were placed on a list that also ran over an hour. Put another way, one may browse but not buy.
And then, of course, there’s Hermès. Sometimes there were short lines outside the boutique, particularly at the Georges V location. Usually, though, one could enter the boutique. Buying was another story.
Prompt sales assistance for popular categories like shoes, belts, and scarves was difficult to access. The shoe department operated with a virtual line; give your name and wait. Other products required aggression to find help – and some customers acted, let’s just say, without grace.
And then there was the handbag dilemma. After all, it seems nearly everyone wants a bag from FSH and particularly a Birkin or Kelly. But the way the process works, you are altogether barred from trying to purchase any handbag absent a leather appointment. We’re not just talking quota bags; any handbag, leather or not.
Shoppers seeking bags are immediately referred to the online appointment system. You register to request an appointment for the following business day. Simple enough, right? Well, not exactly. Just for the record – seven tries for an appointment online all failed.
This online booking system is Hermès’s attempt to eliminate long lines outside the boutiques. Perhaps it is also an attempt to democratize the system. It just doesn’t work. Not all shoppers are equal, even in this supposedly blind lottery system.
Because, not surprisingly, some people are always able to shop. So it wasn’t shocking to see Michael Coste greet a glamorous shopper with a croc Birkin at the FSH mothership, hear him inquire about her stay at Hotel Costes, before he swept her off to a private room no doubt full of quota bag options. Perhaps that’s the secret- a room at Hotel Costes, but somehow we doubt it.
That’s not to say others don’t get appointments. Maybe you’re lucky enough to have a sales associate at any one of the stores who will accommodate you. Occasionally, a walk-in may be granted the privilege to request an appointment and hence a bag. Social media suggests a prior buying spree eases the access. Either way, what you’re offered may not be the bag you desire.
But the humiliation. Weeks later it still burns. A grown woman needing to plead her case and grovel for the opportunity to purchase an expensive handbag seems absurd. To be fair, for some it does work. Though you have to ask yourself whether it is worth it. Especially when it fails.
As the FSH mothership strategy evolves to consideration of recent in-store non-bag purchases, lack of staff and protocols can (orange) box you out completely. It can be nearly impossible to make any purchase, if you aren’t able to devote substantial time. To waiting!
There aren’t enough sales associates. The shoe associate isn’t going to help with scarves, even after you’ve waited substantial time on a list for shoe help, and vice versa. And rarely will any introduce you to a leather goods associate, absent dropping significant cash first.
Beyond illusive orange boxes, stock seemed low everywhere and the process irritatingly arduous. Mind you, the sales staff encountered were for the most part charming and lovely. Again, the experience was not.
For example, the quest for black Chanel sneakers required multiple trips across the city. It’s one thing to sightsee the beauty of Paris by foot. Traipsing around for sneakers is another and lacks any allure.
Store A did not have the right size. Sales associate said it is at Store B, and directed me there. But (and it’s a big but), she could not arrange an appointment with anyone there. That necessitated waiting on a new line at a second store. Further, no one could promise the sneaker would actually be available.
And it wasn’t. So, when Store B said to go to Store C with the same (lack of) protocol, purchasing those Nike sneakers at home became the smarter move.
Imagine doing this brand after brand, store after store… It’s exhausting, frustrating, and not any fun. Is this vacation? The first big trip since the world shut down from COVID and you’re waiting outside a store, rather than seeing Paris?
On the other hand, most shoppers seemed accepting of the process. Sure, one overheard comments about the lines, inquiring just how long it would be, but they waited. They stayed as long as it took. Only at Hermès did you hear frustration- people who had tried online for days without any luck, people begging to just buy a non-quota bag… all politely but firmly turned away.
On some level, both luxury aficionados and brands are to blame. With too many shoppers, too few associates, there’s a supply and demand imbalance in personnel. Could Hermès (or Chanel, Dior, and Louis Vuitton) add more employees in the store? Well, maybe, maybe not: there are occupancy and safety restrictions based on the physical space, as well as the desire to maintain a certain level of experience.
Moreover, adding staff can’t solve the goods shortage. Whether circumstantial or intentional, the supply of in-demand items is limited. Rarely can you waltz into a boutique and find the item you want in the desired color and size.
The experience resembles a hunt or a race. First to the line (finish or waiting) gets the golden goods. Making matters worse are the admonitions from sales associates on social media and in person, advising clientele to decide quickly and act fast.
Perhaps the real question is why we are willing to endure this. Is onerous shopping justified by saving a few dollars (or shekels or yen)? Are we such label-whores that only these top brands will suffice?
We criticize and complain when luxury brands raise prices, but it is quite clear that the demand for these items is strong. Clearly, most shoppers are not deterred by either sticker shock or inconvenience. It’s hard to blame brands for hewing to basic economic principles of supply and demand..
Is there a line (pun intended) you won’t cross to buy your coveted luxury bag? A picket line? An hour-plus wait? Or something else?
Put another way, we ask you, at what point, is enough, enough?
Maura Carlin for PurseBop
2 Responses to “A Sobering View of Paris Shopping for Hermès, Chanel, and More”
Just got home from a two day Paris trip and I am exhausted. Did actually manage to get a walk in appointment in Hermes but it was pure luck due to the fact the person in front of me was so rude that when I sympathised with the SA she gave me an appointment for the next day. Got my unicorn bag as well as a non quota bag and I am still on a high. Would I be so thrilled if I could have just walked in and bought them? Honestly I don’t think I would. The challenge adds to the euphoria you feel when you succeed. However it does limit the time you have to plan and enjoy other experiences apart from shopping in Paris
I just went to Paris a few weeks ago, and this was exactly my experience. It’s as though I wrote this. My husbands words were, this is not what luxury shopping means to me. Don’t even get me started in FSH I got elbowed out of the way waiting for a SA in scarves.