“Black Friday”, post-Thanksgiving and post-Christmas sales just started to fade away all around America, but while Americans are not new to sales, which happen quite often here, it is different in France.
Sales in France are strictly regulated: they can happen only twice a year, no more than six weeks each, and the date is chosen by prefectorates (préfectures). Préfectures is similar to a county administration (France is divided in departments like American counties). In France, usually, sales happen at the same time, usually once in the second half of August, and once in January two or three weeks after Christmas. This year, for example, some departments at the south-west border with Germany decided that sales will be sooner than at other places, to compete with the sales in Germany.
(Post-Christmas sales in London)
Since it’s a rare occasion (and a real treat) for French to shop on sales, sales are a great event and French enjoy it. Shops and stores become wild places, very busy with people at all times of the day - especially after the second "wave" (deuxième démarque), when sales can go as down as 90 percent. First wave is the first reduction in prices, usually 30-50 percent.
Every shop, every outlet, and every store (except maybe mortuaries) has sales - from car dealers to chemists. The rule is that only stuff that has been sold for more than one month can be on sale (no new products.)
This year, it seems that sales are more discreet. Many people have said that the reason for this year’s sales discretion is the current economy crisis, however, a lot of French speculate it is because many people go abroad and buy there, or shop online, or have other priorities. This year, specifically, there were crowds of people in line for sales in London and Berlin, as France became more expensive: the rents went up and the price of goods and food rose, so French take off and drive to the borders of Germany, Netherlands, Belgium and England for major shopping.
However, sales are still very popular with the French, but with so much money spent for Christmas, lots of Europeans, including French, are not shopping sales as much this year as the years before. A friend of mine, who lives in Paris, told me that one can still find many stores with sales, where one can see people fight over goods. Another friend of mine said that each year the government changes the dates and the longevity of the sales: it started at three weeks, then became 4-5 weeks and this year it’s almost six weeks. This year it was an exceptional circumstance, the sales at one of the most-shopped-at famous department store, Galeries Lafayette Haussmann Paris, started at 70 percent discount, which never happened before due to the fact that French this year spent less on Christmas and New Year’s, so in order to attract a shopper past the holidays, the stores extended the hours, the discounts and the assortment of goods that were marked down.
(Galeries Lafayette Haussmann Paris)
This year, shoppers will be enjoying sales through February 10. The extension of sales period might be happening in the summer sales as well and shoppers in France, including visitors, will save the budgets till les soldes open in July, 2009.
There is, of course, a downside. While the sales seem to be very attractive for everyone, including the locals, Paris shops will be cramped and crazy not only during the first few days of the sale, but through the end of the sales, when the markdown is as high as 90 percent!
Shoppers, who got ready weeks in advance, go shopping as on a mission – getting to the stores before the wee-wee hours, trying on items, and hiding the items at the back of the rack, so that when they arrive on a day of sales, they can grab their stuff and race to register. It takes a real trooper to be prepared in a way that no one else could.
French or a non-French, some of us have done sales shopping in France, and it takes only one time to learn the ins and outs of a true Parisienne’s shopping technique. As much as it looks stressful, it could be a great fun, just because you become one of the parisiennes during the les soldes and only a true parisienne would take a notice of your shopping. This said, check in with your friends for the next sales, because I won’t be surprised if during the next wave of sales, most of French will be shopping online, in the comfort of their homes and pajamas.
If you're planning to be in Paris during the sales, besides reaching out to your French friends and relatives, check in with the Office of Tourism, which this year came out with The Shopping Book – a “god’s” promotional guide with hundreds of good addresses of sites and places where the most sales would happen (including “best-kept-secret” designer discount stores and outlets, which only a true fashionista could appreciate – just don’t say anything to a New Yorker.)
The Shopping Book breaks down stores into sections like classique and bobo-chic, and the shopping information is complemented with restaurant recommendations. You can download a copy of the free bilingual guide here, or pick it up in glossy form at one of the city's welcome centers. And if you are a passé on this year’s sales, this guide comes in handy outside of sale season just because it still offers one of the best shopping information for both a local and a visitor – for any season to come.
Vivre Paris, Vivre Shopping!