PARIS -- The French government Friday declared it was postponing Black Friday as it moved to quell a nationwide rebellion by shopkeepers who say Amazon has been stealing business from them during France's coronavirus lockdown.
Black Friday, the quasi-official kickoff to the Christmas shopping season, will be delayed by a week in France, to Dec. 4, after the government wrested an agreement from Amazon and the country's biggest retailers to delay their discounts in the country.
The move is intended to level the playing field for booksellers, clothing shops and "nonessential" businesses that were forced to close their doors Oct. 30 after a second national lockdown was imposed, propelling consumers to online sites, including Amazon.
Under the accord, big retailers agreed not to offer Black Friday sales promotions until Dec. 4 on condition that the government permits small retailers -- which have agitated since the confinement orders to be able to reopen -- to resume operating before then. That would allow the smaller stores time to prepare to offer their own discounts when big competitors do.
"Let us open or let us die," Yohann Petiot, director general of France's Alliance du Commerce, a trade group for businesses, told government officials this week.
The spectacle of one of Europe's largest countries scrambling to protect its retailers from Amazon highlights the difficulties governments are facing as they try to strike a balance between enforcing a second round of shutdowns amid pandemic fatigue and preventing retailers that don't have the same deep pockets as big corporations from collapsing into mass bankruptcies.
In France, the episode has ignited a fresh backlash against the U.S. online giant. Since it arrived in 2000, Amazon has become a favorite in France, capturing nearly half of online spending in 2019. Sales in France jumped nearly 50% from a year ago during the most recent lockdown, the company said.
But rapid growth has turned Amazon into a symbol of a dominant multinational that detractors say is importing unwanted American-style consumerism as well as job instability and environmental degradation to the eurozone's second-largest economy.
In the lead-up to the announcement Friday, the French finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, and other politicians urged shoppers not to give Amazon their business.
The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, circulated an online petition titled "An Amazon-free Christmas." Addressed to Santa Claus, it commits signatories to a "#ChristmasWithoutAmazon," which is described as a tax-dodging Grinch that destroys small businesses, jobs and the environment in France.
The virtual call to arms, however, quickly fell victim to an online hack that overloaded the website with fake signatures sent from more than 200 servers, including hundreds of signings in the name of Jeff Bezos, Amazon's chief executive, with the comment, "Sorry, not sorry, Jeff."
The scramble by French politicians to sooth the ire of small businesses reopened a broader controversy over Black Friday itself, which wasn't even an event in Europe until a few years ago when it was ushered in mainly by Amazon, which began promoting major sales in lockstep with those in the United States.
While the American Thanksgiving is just another Thursday in Europe, Black Friday has thrived. In Britain, Spain and other countries, Amazon and other big retailers 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 shoppers from participating, warning of "a frenzy of consumption" in which people are encouraged to buy products they don't need.
Yet Black Friday has been a crucial tool for retailers to top up sales. Last year, retailers in France raked in an estimated $7.1 billion in revenue around Black Friday.
Those sales are more crucial than ever this year as retailers faced unprecedented losses from lockdowns linked to the pandemic. Although stores reopened from June through September, that was not enough to fully compensate for France's first lockdown; year-to-date sales are still, on average, 10% below their 2019 levels, according to an analysis by German bank Allianz.