You know the stereotypes: The French love excellent food, expensive fashion and exquisite luxury. But times are changing. We bust the myths about French consumer behaviour to help you market more effectively.
My French friend is studying English in France. I laughed when I heard her most recent assignment:
‘Cook an English meal that actually tastes good.’
Sadly, it’s more difficult than it sounds. And it’s another instance where French stereotypes proved to be true.
You know the ones. The French are only interested in indulgent foods, fine wines, exclusive luxury – and they’ll look down on anything else.
But it’s not actually the case. Or at least, not entirely.
If you want to succeed in France, you’ll need to cast aside these old assumptions and embrace the more complex reality of French consumer behaviour.
We’ve busted three myths to get you started:
1. THE FRENCH ONLY EAT GOURMET
Whether it’s sumptuous champagne, haute cuisine or fantastic gâteaux, the French are well-known connoisseurs of the finer things in life.
But a new need to consume differently is affecting what and why the French buy.
For one, they’re trying to lead healthier lifestyles – driving purchases of organic, sugar-free and unprocessed foods.
The wellness trend has also grown popular. Younger generations are increasingly supporting their health goals by investing in exercise classes and wellness experiences. And the French spent a whopping 7.3% of their income on their physical appearance in 2015.
But with more and more people entering the workforce, the average consumer must balance their desire for health & wellbeing with the reality of not having enough time.
Although French people spend 13 more minutes per day eating than they did in early 2000, they also spend 18 minutes less cooking. With those figures, it’s no surprise that convenience foods and services are growing in popularity.
It’s also worth noting that 81% of people aged between 25 and 49 are concerned about the environment. But only 16% believe that brands give out enough manufacturing information. Providing this information will therefore not only boost your environmental creds, but also help you build consumers’ trust.
What does all this mean for your brand? There’s clearly a market for food, health and cosmetics products. But to succeed you’ll need to appeal to your customers where they’re at. Demonstrate how your brand boosts health & wellbeing while protecting the environment. But don’t over-complicate things. The French don’t have much time, so the simpler you can make things, the better.
2. THE FRENCH ONLY BUY LUXURY
Paris is one of the great fashion and luxury capitals of the world. So it’s no surprise the French luxury goods sector brought in revenue of £12.2 million in 2018.
That isn’t the whole story though. Luxury tourism is hugely popular in France, so a lot of the interest in French luxury isn’t actually domestic. In fact, France is the second largest market in the world when it comes to international spending on luxury goods.
Of course, quality is still important to domestic French consumers. But factors like an aging workforce, struggling middle class and a higher cost of living mean they’re becoming more cost-conscious.
This new thriftier French consumerism has affected spending. Despite the buoyant luxury market, they spend just 3.8% of their income on clothes and shoes – the lowest amount in the EU. And one of the surest ways to persuade French consumers to buy has become holding a sale.
That’s why fashion sites like La Redoute regularly feature 2–3 day flash sales. And seasonal events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday have proven so popular that the French created their own version. Known as ‘French Days’, it’s already taken place twice in 2018 (at the end of April and September).
Participating in these sales can be an effective way to win customers when they’re most likely to buy and gain some traction in the market.
But French holidays aren’t always good news for business. Many French shops close on Sundays, as well as during July and August. Your French partners most likely won’t be around during this time and French supply chains will be slow. So if you want to provide a seamless customer experience over the slower summer months, you’ll need to be well prepared.
3. THE FRENCH ONLY BUY FRENCH
Even when paying lower prices, the French still expect high quality. Which is why quality stamps and labels are so popular. In 1997, just 39% of French people were willing to pay more based on a product’s origin. The figure is now 60%.
Proving where your product comes from will therefore not only convince customers to buy from you – it could also allow you to charge a premium.
In recent years, this desire for high quality products has evolved into a preference for French products.
This is because of the ‘Made in France’ concept, launched during the 2012 presidential campaign. The idea was that buying Made in France products would save French jobs while giving you higher quality products.
The campaign was incredibly effective and now 50% of people would prefer to buy something Made in France than an international product.
How can you get past this as an international brand?
Gü is a great example.
Despite basing its name on the French word for flavour – goût – and featuring a German aesthetic, the luxury pudding brand is actually English.
In 2005, La Grande Épicerie de Paris contacted Gü to supply them with chocolate puddings. It quickly became Gü’s best-selling store. How?
Before launching in France, the brand redesigned its packaging and started describing the puddings as moelleux, not soufflés, to match French expectations.
The brand masked its English identity so well that the only clue on the packaging the puddings are UK-made is a tiny sign saying ‘Shepherds building, London.’
By adapting their products and redesigning their packaging with French consumers in mind, Gü was able to succeed in the market.
So perhaps finding English food the French will like isn’t so hard after all.
Despite the stereotypes, French consumer behaviour is more complex than you’d think. They want high quality that doesn’t break the bank. Wellbeing without the fuss. And they’ll even accept English food if it’s ‘French enough’.
But navigating this cultural minefield and achieving success is possible. If you’d like some inspiration on how to adapt your brand or products for France, please get in touch – we’d love to hear from you.
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