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French winter sales: All you need to know

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French winter sales: All you need to know
Get ready for six weeks of winter sales in France. Photo: AFP
13:28 CET+01:00
Wednesday marks the first day of France's winter soldes, or bi-annual blowout sales. For six weeks, the majority of retailers around the country will offer drastic discounts on clothing, jewellery, electronics, and more.

This sale season is a big deal because, apart from the summer sales, other such promotions in France are forbidden by law. 

And after the terrorist attacks of November 13th put a strain on businesses around France, retailers are undoubtedly hoping for a boost from the winter sales.  

Here are some things to know before you start hunting for the best deals. 

When?

For most of the country, the sales begin Wednesday, January 6th and run until Tuesday, February 16th.  The French overseas territories and a few other lucky departments got to start a few days earlier than the rest of the country, kicking off proceedings on Saturday. 

New perk of this year’s sales: reserving products online 

To streamline the shopping process this year, retailers have initiated a system of e-reservation.  This option was around last year but only for a handful of brands, whereas this year 70 retailers (about 18,000 stores) have jumped in. It’s easy — you just go to your preferred brand’s website, reserve what you want, then pick it up a day or two later at the store.

The best part is that you don’t pay anything at the time of reservation. You pay at the store, and if you don’t like the product once you see it in person, there’s no penalty and no obligation to buy.  Just be sure to make your reservation 24-48 hours before your planned store pick-up. The same exchange and refund policy applies to products reserved online. 

Maximum markdowns are possible

Because of the sharp decline in sales following the November attacks, stores are particularly well-stocked and the discounts should be significant, between 50 percent and 60 percent even in the first days.

Better still, retailers are allowed to sell at a loss for these special sales, making extreme discounts even more likely. So be prepared to fight for that 70 percent-off Chanel dress. Keep in mind that stores are not allowed to restock merchandise, so when it’s gone, it’s gone.

Number of shoppers uncertain 

An Ifop poll shows that 84 percent of the French population plan on taking advantage of the sales this year, up from 76 percent last year.  But another poll shows a slight decline in shoppers who will participate in the sales, 75.4 percent  as compared to 77.8 percent  in 2014. Either way, there will certainly be some competition for the hottest deals.

Sales are government-regulated with specific rules

French commercial code sets strict guidelines for the soldes. To start, discounted products must have already been in the store for at least a month. Sale items must also be clearly marked and separated from non-sale items with the before and after price plainly visible. Online shops must also abide by these rules.

Return/exchange policies

Although some retailers might try to say the contrary, any product bought on sale is still subject to normal exchange and refund policies.  In case of a hidden defect, the store is required to refund or exchange the product. But if you just changed your mind or bought the wrong size, the retailers aren’t obligated to take it back.

The French soldes are unique

France is somewhat distinctive for being one of the few European countries with such strictly-regulated sales. Most other countries offer sales starting after Christmas but with fewer restrictions and flexible dates. In Belgium, the winter sales start January 2nd and last only through the end of the month. In the UK, sales usually start on Boxing Day and are finished around the end of January.

By Katie Warren

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