Will companies that remain in Russia be rejected by the French?

Edit: A few hours after the publication of our article, the Decathlon brand announced, through a press release, that it was “suspending” its activities in Russia.

Will it go, won’t it go? The question does not refer to the transfer of Mbappe at Real Madrid, more some french companies implanted in Russia. The country is experiencing a mass exodus after the invasion of ukraine, many large international companies pack their bags away from Moscow (McDonald’s, Starbucks, Coca-Cola, LVMH, Hermès, Chanel, Land Rover and Volvo, among others). Ukrainian diplomats have repeatedly urged the companies still present on the spot to follow this example, calling in particular on the French to boycott Auchan supermarkets.

But at the moment there is no doubt that the Mulliez group (Auchan, Decathlon, Leroy-Merlin) will lose Russia and its profitable market share. Kept in Moscow, these brands are also very popular in their country of origin, Decathlon has been chosen for the last three years as the favorite brand of the French. Could this refusal to leave a country that has become an opposition harm the brand image and the turnover of these groups?

Unethical shopping in France

“The French are not very politicized in their purchase,” points out from the beginning Elisabeth Tissier-Desbordes, professor of economics at ESCP and specialist in consumer behavior. The speaker continues: “Apart from the militants and activists, the population dissociates the opinion that they may have of a brand of the purchase of your products. McDonald’s or Amazon are good examples of this phenomenon. Even more so in this period of economic precariousness, adds the expert, where the price is much more important than the convictions.

“When we go to Auchan or Leroy-Merlin, we don’t think about Ukrainians,” says Isabelle Andernack, a professor at the Burgundy School Of Business in the accounting department. For her, a big boycott could have taken place in the event of a direct link to the war. For example, if they were companies selling weapons or equipment to the Russians, which is far from the case. “The products sold at Auchan and Leroy-Merlin are essential. You can boycott LVMH to clear your conscience, more difficult your usual supermarket, ”adds the accounting expert. Elisabeth Tissier-Desbordes drives home the point: “The French have never boycotted a brand, not even a foreign one. So a national flagship…”

win the war

Cracks may still appear. ” sales You’ll probably be impacted for a quarter or two, but anger like this never lasts long,” says Marcel Botton, founder and deputy CEO of ad marketing agency Nomen. He remember: brands as historic as Coca-Cola or Perrier have also suffered calls for boycotts after scandals, without this ultimately having an impact on their turnover. Proof of this ability to ignore, this expert has even forgotten the scandals in question by the two brands of drink. “A boycott is like a vaccine: without a booster, it quickly loses its effectiveness”, metaphorizes Marcel Botton.

Therefore, the question is, in particular, who will win the communications war between Ukraine and Russia in the eyes of French opinion. Quality versus quantity, according to the expert: “The Ukrainians have much better communication, but the Russians have much more striking power on social networks, which could tip the balance in the long run.” A March 2022 survey showed that 73% of the French were pro-Ukrainian and only 3% pro-Russian.

Economy before empathy

If such rejection of Russia is prolonged, there could be significant financial losses for the groups in question. But the risk is limited. “The emotion always ends up fading,” Isabelle Andernack pleads. Unless he comes back with other rumours, positive or negative. Decathlon is currently in the eye of the hurricane due to the war in Ukraine, but who remembers that two years ago almost to the day, the brand offered its diving masks to caregivers to protect them from the coronavirus ? It’s like that with the buzz, they pass and follow each other. “The Mulliez group can hope that a future event will make us forget this position on Russia,” says Marcel Botton. For Isabelle Andernack, the group may even seek to create its own positive buzz, for example by distributing food through Auchan.

Despite the massive support of the French population for the Ukrainians, Marcel Botton believes that the loss of turnover in France for these brands will be only 10 or 15% maximum, for a few months at most. A low impact that almost by itself justifies staying, like the figure of Isabelle Andernack: “Mulliez has much more to lose if he leaves than if he stays. The Russian market represents 10% of Auchan’s turnover and 18% of Leroy-Merlin. These stores were established in Russia for eighteen years. They are not going to change everything for a geopolitical event.”

And it doesn’t matter if your image tarnishes for a few weeks, time must do its work, concludes Marcel Botton: “We forget about controversies and bad communications. Not the marks. »

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