Masses Storm H&M on First Day: 15,000 Visitors, NIS 3M in Sales

It looks like a new Israeli record. The Swedish clothing chain H&M held its Israeli debut yesterday, pulling in an estimated 15,000 customers - most of them teenage girls - and an estimated NIS 3 million in sales.

The company launched its first store in Israel, at the Azrieli Center mall in Tel Aviv. By the time the doors opened at 11 A.M., thousands of people had been standing outside for over an hour.

Naomi and Ilanit, 19-year-olds from Netanya, said that didn't bother them. "We go to France in order to shop at H&M, so of course we'd come here," said Naomi.

Oshrat, 39, said she flew up from Eilat especially for the opening, and would be returning home that evening.

The management tried to control the crowds, but at around 11:45 A.M. they managed to storm inside. Several were trampled, and at least one woman reportedly felt unwell as a result. However, security guards managed to regain order.

The store stayed open until midnight, and a total of 15,000 shoppers were expected to pass through by that time. As of 3 P.M., the official number of customers stood at 6,000.

It was a big week for foreign flagships - on Tuesday, IKEA opened its second branch in Israel, in Rishon Letzion. A total of 15,000 came to check it out, but sales totaled only NIS 2 million. When Gap opened its first store in Tel Aviv last week, 10,000 people came in the first day, but spent only NIS 300,000. H&M is believed to have topped both.

The H&M hysteria began slightly earlier, with an invitation-only preview of the store. The 1,000 invitees included celebrities and bank CEOs, and they rang up a total of NIS 500,000 in only four hours. H&M's top executives, including CEO Karl-Johan Persson, attended the opening and stood in the center of the store, smiling and thrilled by the excitement.

However, the excitement in Europe isn't nearly as great - pro-Palestinian groups have planned protests over the chain's Israeli launch. But H&M executives said they took this into account when they decided to enter the Israeli market.

Nils Vinge, global H&M's head of investor relations, said the company is not a religious or political one, and is very happy to be in Israel.