In the car park of the Auchan hypermarket in Louvroil, very close to Maubeuge (Hauts-de-France), the red and white license plates compete with the French plates. “We crossed the 25% mark of Belgian customers, indicates Fouzia Tabaza, the store manager. Before the Covid, we fluctuated between 20 and 25%. »
The reason for this influx: the explosion of prices in their country. Many media have compared the prices on both sides of the border: “The DH newspaper. net has for example indicated that a €500 shopping cart in Belgium was worth €300 in France”, continues Fouzia Tabaza, while relativizing these comparisons “because you have to see the proportions, the marks…”
“You can find cheaper prices, already because we are not taxed in the same way”, says Patrick, who came with his wife, Martine, to fill two and maybe three carts. “We are in Europe, these differences are still serious”, continues this Belgian client who lives less than three quarters of an hour from Louvroil.
Differences of 20 to 30%
“We have a tax on plastic bottles which does not exist in France”, agrees Dominique Michel administrator, delegate of Comeos, the Belgian Federation of trade and services. “This price difference is also explained by higher wage costs in Belgium, particularly for the lowest wages. Furthermore, our traders do not have such favorable prices as in Germany or France when they negotiate. For the same box of cereal or cola drink, there are differences of 20 to 30% for the Belgian trader. And all that is reflected on the receipt. »
In addition to these structural reasons, there is another related to the energy crisis, “with a 50% higher cost here”, deplores Dominique Michel. We could even add a final one: unlike in France, salaries in Belgium are indexed to inflation.
Activity jumps for border stores
This cross-border exodus is not new: the Belgian clientele has its brands here as in the group’s other stores close to the border, in Roncq, Leers or even Petite-Forêt… But this increase in Belgian attendance is due holy bread for these hypermarkets. Auchan Louvroil has achieved very good turnover since this summer, ranking among the ten best hypermarkets of the brand with the red and green bird. “Activity has been growing for a few months but we are well aware that this inflationary context can change at any time”, adds the manager of the store, which has around 500 employees.
Fearing that this exodus will increase further, the Belgian Trade Federation is calling for a reduction in social charges on low and medium salaries (up to €3,000), so that the salary cost is identical on both sides of the border: “This structural problem has existed for years but it is accelerating, the situation is getting worse from week to week”is alarmed the managing director of Comeos who also asks that energy measures be taken. “Inflation is around 10% in Belgium when it is only 5.5% for you this month, indicates Dominique Michel. The French government does much more for the citizens than our government. »
In Louvroil, the Belgian client is much more Walloon than Flemish: he comes from around Mons or Charleroi, “even if it becomes profitable to come from Brussels”notes Fouzia Tabaza. “I only come to Louvroil twice a year but that could change if the gaps continue to widen”says Godelieve, a Brussels woman who mainly buys wine and cheese.
A new loss leader: fuel
Especially since French hypermarkets have a new loss leader in this period of energy crisis: fuel. While Northerners have often had the habit of bypassing the town of Quiévrain to refuel, currently it is their Belgian neighbors who are killing two birds with one stone.
Éric, who came from Charleroi to stock up on wine for the banquet of his pigeon club, had not heard of the discount introduced by the French government: “I discovered when I saw the fares displayed at the station that it was worth it. »“I have always experienced fluctuations”notes Philippe, a retiree from Mons, before going to the pump (about 25 cents less for 98 unleaded). “Sometimes gasoline is more interesting in France, sometimes in Belgium…”“In any case, for cigarettes, you have to come to us,” jokes Yves, who scoured two French hypermarkets to take advantage of the promotions. “In fact, it’s everyone’s turn. »