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Consumer spending trends Study reveals Greater Geneva cross-border shopping imbalance

Lake Geneva and fountain

Just under one million people live in the city and extended region known as Greater Geneva

(Keystone / Martin Ruetschi )

Geneva residents spend three times more than French shoppers during cross-border trips, according to the first-ever study of consumer spending habits in the Greater Geneva region. 

The survey published on Mondayexternal link found that Swiss residents spend CHF416 million annually in France, compared with CHF148 million paid out by French shoppers in Switzerland. Total annual turnover in the Greater Geneva region is estimated at CHF7 billion.

One quarter of 3,400 households questioned for the survey said they regularly went shopping over the border; 70% said the exchange rate had no influence. 

Out of a household budget of CHF100, a Swiss household spends CHF9 in France, whereas French households spend only CHF5 in Geneva, the survey found. 

In general, French shoppers travel for specific items or shops in Switzerland, such as the furniture giant Ikea. In contrast, Swiss consumers go to France to buy mainly fresh fish and meat (€60 million), wine and alcoholic beverages (€35 million) and milk-based products (€35 million).

Cross-border shopping and the billions of francs Swiss shoppers spend annually in Germany and France, has become an important question for Swiss businesses and politicians in Bern. The Federal Councilexternal link is expected to publish a report in May on the impact of the strong Swiss franc, value-added tax and cross-border shopping. 

Traffic problem

On Monday, Geneva and French officials downplayed the scale of the cross-border phenomenon in the Geneva region. Geneva President Antonio Hodgers described cross-border expenditure as “marginal and anecdotal”. 

The problem, says Hodgers, is the heavy reliance on private vehicles to go shopping over the border rather than public transport, which clogs up already busy roads. The survey found that 88% of Swiss residents take their car to go shopping in France, compared with 85% of French residents. 

Local officials are hoping that the launch of Léman Express, a major new cross-border rail system due to start on December 15, can help solve regional transport headaches.

But Geneva shopkeepers remain anxious about the impact of cross-border shopping on their businesses.

"The message given [by the authorities] is not appropriate. We must not downplay the situation. There have never been so many empty arcades in the city of Geneva. Our traders are struggling to make ends meet, and it is often difficult to re-let areas that have to close," Yves Menoud, head of the Geneva New Organisation of Entrepreneurs (NODE), told reporters on Tuesday.

Switzerland’s second biggest city is at a busy crossroads with France and the Alps. Just under one million people live in the city and extended region known as Greater Genevaexternal link, which includes the Franco-Valdo-Genevois region to Nyon in canton Vaud, Bellegarde-sur-Valserine, Annemasse, Meyrin, Bonneville, Thonon-les-Bains and Geneva. By 2030, the region is forecast to grow by at least 200,000 residents. 

Keystone SDA/sb

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