Know your consumer rights during France’s winter sales bonanza

Know your consumer rights during France's winter sales bonanza
Photo: AFP
As the official French sales season begins, here's what you need to know about the seasonal shopping spree including your all important consumer rights.

Wednesday, January 8th, marks the first day of the winter soldes (sales) for the vast majority of France.

In most parts of France they last until February 4th – two weeks shorter than the usual winter sales period of six weeks.

There are however regional exceptions to this rule. In the départements of Meurthe-et-Moselle, Meuse, Moselle and Vosges the sales started on January 2nd and run until Wednesday 29th. There are also different dates for France's overseas departments that you can read about here.

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

Unlike other year-round sales, les soldes are highly regulated. For example promotional items must have been on sale for at least a month before being offered at a discount price.

Shops can slash their prices because for them it's about clearing their stock during the sales period. During the sales period and ONLY during the sales period stores are allowed to sell at a loss.

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.

Stores are forbidden from hiking the prices of items before the sales period to make falsely it appear as though it is offering huge discounts during the soldes.

Despite the rules being strict consumer groups still advise shoppers to be cautious especially when shopping online.

Alexandre Chevallier from the France's anti-consuler fraud body DGCCRF tells 20 Minutes: “We always advise the customer to take the time to look at the different online offers on a product. Before you buy, check the offers, the guarantees, the details, the means and delivery times … By taking the time to compare everything you will be vigilant.”

Can I exchange my bargains?

Although some retailers might try to say the contrary, any product bought on sale is still subject to normal exchange and refund policies.

So if you are told or shown something like les articles soldés ne sont ni repris ni échangés  (the articles on sale cannot be returned or exchanged) you should ignore it and point out your rights.

In case of a hidden defect, the store is required to refund or exchange the product. But beware this is only for defects that were not apparent in the store, for example an electrical item that doesn't work.

But if you just changed your mind or bought the wrong size, the retailers aren't obliged to take it back or allow you to exchange although many of them will.

However if you buy something by mail order or through the internet you do have the right to send it back within 14 days and the retailer is obliged to refund the money.

“This is the fundamental difference between online and offline sales,” explains Alexandre Chevallier from France's anti-consumer fraud body.

“You do not need a reason or proof to cancel an order online, even during the sales. Keep in mind that this right runs from the day after receipt of the package and lasts 14 days.”

Are the French soldes 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 the UK, sales usually start on Boxing Day and are finished around the end of January. 

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