More than 300 players will meet for three weeks to discuss changes in a sector facing unprecedented challenges.
Commerce has long waited for government to look at its future, as it regularly does for industry. It’s done. As of Wednesday, more than 300 players will meet for three weeks as part of the Assises du Commerce organized in Bercy. As a sign of the importance given to this event, no less than five ministers or secretaries of state, including Bruno Le Maire, the Minister of the Economy, will be present for its launch.
The participants will try to agree on the problems facing their sector, which is undergoing rapid change due to the explosion in online sales, as well as on the solutions to be provided. A report will be submitted to the President of the Republic in January. Some of the recommended measures could be taken in the coming months, if they are of a regulatory nature. But most will have to wait for the presidential election to take shape.
“Despite this, we welcome these Assises because it is the first time that the government has defined a strategic vision for trade, and has adopted a plan that corresponds to this vision”, underlines Jacques Creyssel, the general delegate of the Federation of commerce and distribution.
The stakes are high, both in terms of employment and our lifestyles. The necessary transformation of trade involves many challenges.
• Finance the transition of businesses to an omnichannel model
E-commerce accounted for 9% of product sales in 2019. Its market share will likely reach 15% this year, and “We know he will take 30% tomorrow, notes Emmanuel Le Roch, the general delegate of Procos, a federation which represents 300 major brands. If the players do not continue their transformation, a large part of the market will be captured by large international platforms. But the means to invest are important, and we have to go quickly ”. The distribution invests 2% of its turnover each year, against 9% for Amazon, underlines the FCD. The whole challenge is to help businesses, weakened by the pandemic, to invest more. “We are waiting for the State to accompany us, explains Jacques Creyssel. This assistance could be fiscal, direct, or take the form of cost relief..»
• Fairness with the giants of online commerce
Traditional retailers have long believed that competition with e-commerce giants is distorted. Among other things, they are subject to property taxes that their competitors who sell exclusively on the internet do not pay. “This is a very important question so that French traders always have a role to play”, abounds Bruno Le Maire. However, the issue of fairness between trade players is not easy to resolve, and positions diverge.
Unlike the self-employed, “We do not want to increase the taxes on warehouses, because that would penalize all the actors”, underlines for example Jacques Creyssel. The FCD, on the other hand, asks to be able to open on Sundays all day and in the evening if necessary. Like online players.
• Preserve employment despite the digitization of sales
If commerce has waited so long for its government plan, it is partly because jobs in the sector were deemed not to be relocatable. The breakthrough of e-commerce has changed that. According to various studies, 20% to 30% of the 3.2 million jobs in the sector are threatened by online sales and automation. “We want to anticipate these developments”, explains Bruno Le Maire. So that they do not result in a social massacre, it will be necessary to train employees in new tasks, and to anticipate their retraining in other sectors.
• Preserving city centers
The rise of e-commerce has an impact on the physiognomy of city centers and outskirts. The vacancy rate has risen sharply there. The Heart of the City Action program is already working to reintroduce commercial activities in city centers that are becoming depopulated. “We must do more, and faster”, believes Bruno Le Maire.
There are many solutions, from public transport to city accessibility, including town planning. But the state cannot do everything. “The more landlords adapt rents to the operating results of businesses, the less vacancies there will be”, emphasizes Emmanuel Le Roch.