Ready, set, shop!
Vivent les soldes! The entire country gets ready to shop 'till it drops after the opening of the sales season: les soldes. Expatica France editor Clair Whitmer explains the bargain-hunting basics, including a rundown on your consumer rights.
Get out there now troops! You must organize reconnaissance today or you may be too late. Your neighbour has her eye on your sweater.
That's the tone taken by serious bargain-hunters in January.
Les soldes are a much-anticipated commercial event mandated by the government; during two period of six weeks each twice a year, the government permits stores to organise massive stock sell-offs.
The national government picks the start date and the préfecture — based on some mysterious calculations conducted with local representatives of the retail trade — picks the end date for each département.
This year, the buying season opens tomorrow, January 11, and shoppers across the country have already been busy doing 'repérage' or 'spotting' missions for the items they hope will go on sale tomorrow; as everyone knows, the good stuff goes in 24-hours so get out your carte banquaire and queue up now.
No kidding; the sales operate strictly on a first-come, first-served basis and it's not unusual to see shoppers lined up outside the major stores at daybreak on the first day of les soldes. Some stores have been known to stage special midnight openings, and in year's past there have even been reports of injuries as consumers stampede in to grab the good stuff.
The government sets the dates to try and keep shoppers in their local areas instead of travelling to the big cities for a bargain, that is, to keep everyone from descending en masse on Paris at the same time although the trains get full this week nonetheless.
The bargain-hunting rules
While most people associate the sales with a chance to refresh their wardrobe, the sales season applies to any kind of merchandise. You're mostly likely to find deals, des bonnes affaires, on the kinds of stock that turn over seasonally, such as clothes of course, since the whole point is to help retailers unload their 'winter' stock before the start of spring.
But you'll see SOLDES! signs on practically every storefront; computer equipment and household appliances, where new models come in every year, are also good bargain bets.
A huge sales sign in the window does not mean everything inside is on sale, however.
There's two more months of cold weather so stock up now on winter fashions
The idea here is to prevent retailers from advertising merchandise as 'on sale' when in fact it was just put on the shelves at that price; the original price, prix de référence, must also still be visible on the tag, l'étiquette, so the buyer can confirm that it really is 70 percent off if that is what's advertised. (Remember that the word 'jusqu'à' means 'up to' as in 'up to 70 percent off').
Retailers are also forbidden to sell under cost, unless it's something that can't be sold in the following season, like this year's winter coats for example.
If you buy on something soldé, you are entitled to whatever guarantees that item normally comes with; retailers, however, are not required —and probably won't — replenish stock on sale items so once all the size 38s are gone, that's it. (This is why women bother with 'pre-shopping' knowing there are limited supplies of the common sizes.)
Clothes-shop owners also often charge for alterations, les retouches or other services for non-clothes kinds of merchandise that would normally be included in the price.
Store owners can also refuse exchanges or returns on sales items, although it's supposed to be clearly indicated at the time of purchase either by a sign or verbally by the person at the cash register. Interestingly, this is not true for online sales — oh yes, les soldes sont en ligne! — where the retailer must permit buyers to return items as they haven't physically examined them before purchase.
Regardless, shoppers must be extra careful to keep receipts on everything purchased during the month of les soldes, on sale or not, so you can establish when you bought it and what you paid.
Why everybody loves les soldes
Les soldes are different from store liquidations or periodic store-specific sales, les rabais, which are also heavily regulated but with different rules that involve very specific public announcements for which the store is responsible.
Retailers prefer these seasonal soldes because they benefit from massive industry-wide publicity; they can count on a post-holiday selling season; and it tends to keep down price competition outside of the season.
Consumers love them because, well, the French love dressing well and everybody loves a bargain.
Subject: Living in France