Balenciaga Apologizes to Chinese Customers for Fight at Printemps

BEIJING — A video clip of a violent scuffle involving several Balenciaga customers at Printemps in Paris has prompted an apology from the brand, after it fielded accusations that it discriminated against Chinese shoppers, an incident that highlights the complications that can arise from a still flourishing gray market.

According to the user who uploaded the video, the fight broke out when French shoppers attempted to enter, bypassing a line of Chinese customers waiting for their turn.

“Boycott Balenciaga discriminating against Chinese. Really angry, queuing up and yet get hit by the people cutting in line. From now on, buy Chinese Li Ning [the sportswear brand],” the video caption read, adding that Balenciaga would not be able to sell its shoes if Chinese consumers stopped buying them.

The brand apologized in a statement on Thursday saying, “The house of Balenciaga regrets the incident that took place yesterday morning at a department store in Paris while customers were waiting to enter its corner shop. The security staff acted immediately to restore the calm. Balenciaga sincerely apologizes to the customers who were present and reaffirms its strong commitment to respect equally all its customers.”

One witness wrote on WeChat that every day she lined up to buy Balenciaga sneakers, and on a daily basis French-Albanian shoppers cut in front but she always held her tongue.

“Today an older lady pointed out that five foreigners were cutting in line and one of them threatened her. Her son rushed over to defend her and got beaten by the group. French security only went after and restrained the Chinese. In the end, the sale was canceled. The most frustrating part is that the ones that started the fight were able to buy the shoes and Printemps disrespected the Chinese who had lined up, telling us to go away and never come back to buy shoes again.”

“It was a lot of the daigou sellers [in line], “Liz Flora, Asia Pacific editor for consultancy L2, said, “which shows how price disparities can have such a huge impact on the market. These items are so hot right now and there is huge demand for them. It was so important to get these, purchase them, and get them to China. I think that’s going to be a wake up call for brands of what extreme price disparities do to the market.”

While certain brands like Chanel have harmonized their prices worldwide, due to import taxes, brand policy and currency swings, it is not uncommon to still see 30 to 40 percent price differential across countries, although the gap overall has narrowed in the past few years.

The official Printemps Instagram account has filled up with various angry comments, saying “shame on you.”

The department store also issued an apology via Chinese social media.

“We deeply regret the altercation that occurred yesterday in Printemps, which is in strict contradiction with the experience we are committed to offer to our customers. We would like to extend our sincerest apologies to the Chinese customers involved in this altercation as well as to all those who were upset or inconvenienced in any way,” it said.

“We have decided to ensure that the staff receive additional training so that they manage in the best way this type of situation. We will make every effort to ensure that this type of altercation does not happen again, and we want to reaffirm our commitment to providing all our customers with the best experience,” the retailer added.

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