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French ‘green’ gifting to save money and the planet

Paris – A used book or nearly-new kitchen gadget may not be at the top of every Christmas wish list, but hard economic times coupled with a new green awareness are changing attitudes about gift-giving in France.

French holiday shoppers are opting in larger numbers for "green" gifting this Christmas, studies show.

About 30 percent of French consumers will give second-hand items as gifts to stretch out their tight budgets but also to do their little bit for recycling, according to a study by international consulting firm Deloitte.

The survey of Christmas consumer behaviours in 18 European countries found the French were more than twice as likely as other Europeans to give second-hand items, making France a pioneer in the trend.

Paris office worker Flavi Verrey said she found holiday happiness online by buying second-hand gifts such as an old DVD of Charlie Chaplin’s "The Great Dictator" for her husband along with used copies of his favourite comic strips.

For her nieces, she chose old jewellery, spending a grand total of EUR 20.

"I like the idea that things that once belonged to someone can be of use to someone else," said Verrey.

The 32-year-old mother did not list budget concerns as a major reason for re-gifting but rather sees herself adopting a new consumer attitude that does not need to buy new and wants to reduce waste.

"I do feel that we are at a turning point. People are more aware about how they spend and the choices they make," said Verrey.

Websites promoting re-gifting and green gifting are flourishing in France, with many reporting a rise in business.

"Concerns about the ecology and the economy have come together and are now seeing people who accept the types of gifts that were not appreciated just a short time ago," said Sebastien Ravut, who runs a website promoting eco-friendly consumerism.

His site lists shops in France that offer fair trade products, bio-friendly goods and recycled items. Over the Christmas holidays, the number of visits to the site has doubled from last year, reaching 60,000 per month.

Second-hand gifts may be more widely accepted in France because the French are accustomed to garage sales and second-hand stores, Ravut said.

He also suggested they may be more resistant to North American-style shop-until-you-drop consumerism.

Online retailer PriceMinister is tapping into the re-gifting market in a big way, selling everything from year-old flat screen TVs to Michael Jackson CDs.

"Over the past two years, there has been a strong increase in the trend to give second-hand items as gifts," said PriceMinister’s director for marketing, Olivier Mathiot.

"Many of the psychological barriers have fallen."

A study by online survey firm Vivodi for PriceMinister showed eight out of 10 people would be happy to receive a used item as a gift and that younger consumers were more open to the idea.

But Gilles Goldenberg, author of the Deloitte study, cautioned that environmental concerns are not the overriding consideration when buying used goods.

"The number one concern is getting the lowest possible price," said Goldenberg. "Eco-friendly products are drawing a lot of interest, but not if that means paying more."

Theatre tickets and other low-carbon gifts are in vogue, and eco-friendly websites are also encouraging gift givers to offer time and services instead of stuff.

"The order of the day is to spend less time shopping and more time connecting" over the holidays, said Florence de Monclin from the Nicolas Hulot foundation for Nature and Humanity.

AFP/Carole Landry/Expatica