If you’ve followed some of our advice about the best places to shop in Paris, you might have been in for a surprise earlier this week. Anybody paying a visit to a French department store may well have found it unusually busy. Indeed, shoppers in Parisian stores everywhere from the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré to the Grande Épicerie de Paris had to contend not just with their fellow customers, but also TV crews and journalists keen to catch a slice of the action.
But why all the excitement? It’s because this winter’s soldes—or sales, to you and me—have begun in earnest and bargain-hunters have been out browsing. Unlike elsewhere in the world where stores can launch promotions and discount unpopular stock whenever it suits them, French law dictates that sales may only take places in two five week windows, one in the winter, usually starting in early January, and again in the usually quiet summer months of July and August.
After complaints from shopkeepers, since 2008, retailers also have two weeks of ‘floating sales’ that they can use up whenever they like, but most of the attention is still focussed on the main annual sales. All sorts of stores mark down their stock, and then can be some real bargains. They’re even allowed to sell things off at a loss, something that French law normally prohibits.
Once the date has been announced, stores start working to anticipate the extra demand (and extra competition), drawing attention to their reductions with huge red signs marked ‘SOLDES’ popping up all over Paris, and indeed the rest of France. As the five-week window goes on, the discounts get deeper, although inevitably the amount of choice declines. Part way through the period, shops will start advertising their ‘deuxième’ (second) or even ‘troisième’ (third) ‘démarque’, meaning that they have slashed prices again. By the time of the ‘dernière démarque’, things are nearly over for another year.
This year’s sales in Paris run from Wednesday, January 11 all the way through to Valentine’s Day, Tuesday, February 14, although they are slightly different in a few other French towns, especially close to the Spanish and German boders.
If all the action will be over before you make it to Paris, then you might take heart from the fact that the summer sales will run from Wednesday, June 27 all the way until Tuesday, July 31!