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SHOPPING

What you need to know about France’s winter sales

French stores hold four weeks of sales in the winter, run to a government-mandated timetable.

A woman walks past a shopfront advertising sales in France.
A woman walks past a shopfront advertising sales in France. Most of the country is set to enter the winter sales period on January 12th. (Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP)

Sales in France are highly regulated by the government, which sets two distinct periods when shops are allowed to offer discounts on a wide range of goods: winter and summer. 

The law states: “Winter sales begin on the second Wednesday of the month of January at 8am. This date is brought forward to the first Wednesday of the month when the second Wednesday falls after the 12th of the month.”

This means that this year, the four-week window for grabbing a post-Christmas bargain is fast approaching in most French départements, running from Wednesday, January 12th to Tuesday, February 8th. 

There are however some exceptions. In Moselle, Meuse, Meurthe-et-Moselle and Les Vosges, sales have already begun and will run until January 30th. These parts of France border Luxembourg and Belgium and have different dates to align with commercial patterns in those countries to avoid competition – this has been the case for close to a decade. 

READ ALSO Know your consumer rights during France’s sales

French overseas territories also have their own winter sales periods, which have all now passed. In La Réunion for example, they take place in September. 

National winter and summer sales were previously set at six weeks but were cut down to four weeks in 2020. That same year, the winter sales period was pushed back because of the pandemic but this year, the sales will not be delayed. 

The sales will come as relief to both consumers and businesses in France. In the lead up to Christmas, one survey found that 48 percent of French people were less financially comfortable than the year before. The toy and electronics sectors took a particular hit. The sales could provide an opportunity for retail therapy with cheap clothes, bargain electrical goods and low-cost jewellery among the items available. 

For businesses on the other hand, sales provide a chance to clear unwanted stock, attract new customers and crucially this year, mitigate some of the economic damage caused by the pandemic. 

“We hope that the sales will work, that they will attract lots of people,” said the Federation of Traders in Metz, in a statement to BFMTV

High street retailers will hope to see a boom. But online shoppers will also be able to bag a bargain during this period. 

During the sales, goods must have been on display for at least a month at normal prices before being discounted, all items must be clearly labelled with the pre-sale price and the sale price, and shops are forbidden from hiking the prices of items before the sales, in order to make discounts seem more attractive.

The normal exchange and refund rules also apply to goods bought in the sales.

France is one of the very few countries that has such highly regulated sales, with shoppers in Great Britain and the USA accustomed to seeing endless discounts, promotions and special offers all year round. 

The idea behind the French system is to protect smaller retailers who cannot compete with big chains and multinationals that are able to buy in bulk and sell some items as a loss-leader.

Member comments

  1. “The idea behind the French system is to protect smaller retailers who cannot compete with big chains and multinationals that are able to buy in bulk and sell some items as a loss-leader.”
    If you have a business that relies on a Government to keep the doors open, it’s time to close the doors.

    1. Part of the role of a functioning government is to protect the populace from the unscrupulous. Giving capitalism free reign ends up turning society into a cut throat one where only those at the top can afford a half decent life. Small businesses are strangled or bullied out of existence and competition is eventually rigged between the few remaining players in any given market. So I salute the French government for making an attempt at keeping the playing field level, even if I do not always appreciate the higher prices I have to pay for some products in France…it remains the lesser evil.

      1. Rubbish. Written by someone that has never had a business or employed people. If a business has to be propped up by Government regulations, it should close down. The prices in France are already rigged, so your stylized idea of how businesses run in France is not working. A business is there to make money on its own merit, if it can’t without the help of Government rules it closes. Now let me get back to feeding my unicorns.😛

        1. All businesses are “propped up” by Government regulations. Oil subsidies, the taxpayer-paid military that protects their interests, legislatures that they lobby and outright buy through campaign contributions and “fact-finding junkets,” and the fact that small businesses are at an extreme disadvantage when the (again, taxpayer-paid) courts are involved in litigation in disputes over things like copyrights and patents. Many of the very largest corporations would collapse without government support and subsidies, like defense contractors.

          Let me put it another way—if large corporations didn’t need government support, then why do they spend so much bloody money trying to gain it? Clearly it’s a good investment for them, and an option not available to small local enterprises. I’m very pleased to live in France where so many small businesses survive, preserving communities that would otherwise be steamrolled into the homogenous hellscape of so many towns and cities in my home country. Try visiting places where the only remaining retailer is a Wal-mart and tell me that’s a lovely alternative.

          1. They should just close and stop kidding themselves they are profitable. I suppose you are someone that wants the countryside to be preserved because it all looks so picture-book perfect, then complains about the smells and noise. Nothing wrong with Walmart. At least, one can buy paracetamol and Ibropufin over the counter at a reasonable price.

  2. Many small villages are able to survive and provide retail services for the local and elderly citizens and those people who don’t have access to private transport due to the regulated sales.

    I appreciate this stance to help keep the local community viable, the greed of unregulated hyper/super markets in the uk have effectively killed the high street small shops.

    It is slightly more expensive granted, but for the greater good I don’t mind paying a slightly higher price.

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FOOD & DRINK

7 tips to keep your grocery shopping in France affordable

With rising inflation and cost of living, many people in France are desperate to keep their grocery bill low. Here are a few tips for how to avoid paying too much for food, drink and other everyday items.

7 tips to keep your grocery shopping in France affordable

With inflation ticking upward, we’ve seen prices rise, especially for things like fresh vegetables, meat, pasta and cooking oil. Even though inflation is affecting food prices less than energy prices, buying groceries is still a huge part of every household’s budget, and unfortunately things are set to keep getting more pricey. 

We’ve put together a list of a few ways you can save a few euro at the supermarket:

Figure out if you qualify for any government benefits

First things first, it is worth seeing whether you can qualify for any existing government assistance, like CAF. On top of this, the French government has promised to set up a food voucher of €50 per month for low-income households after the parliamentary elections in June. 

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to receive CAF payments in France

Compare store prices

Unfortunately, going to the closest supermarket is not always the most economical solution. If you prioritise grocery stores on the lower end of the price spectrum (and you’re willing to walk a bit further) you can save a lot of money. A helpful tool to find the cheapest store near you is the “Que Choisir” online interactive map (click here) that has listed 4,000 affordable stores in mainland France. 

Discount grocery stores, like Lidl and Aldi, are great options for saving a little extra at checkout. But if you must go to a pricier chain, like Monoprix for instance, try to buy Monoprix brand items – they’re typically a little less expensive than name brand foods.

Plan ahead to make the most out of discounts

If you go online ahead of heading to the grocery store, you can see which items will be discounted (“promotion”). If you cannot find this information online, you can always go to the store and ask for a catalogue of that week’s sales items.

Normally, this is something the cashier should have access to. With these discounts in mind, you can construct more affordable recipes. 

Franprix’s website, the ‘discounts’ page

Also, if you’re looking for cheaper recipes in general, you can always go to blogs and online recipe sites specialised in frugal shopping. If you want to try some French specific sites, you can test out “https://www.marmiton.org/” or “https://1repas1euro.com/recettes/

When it comes to discounts though, be careful about conditions involved (particularly when it comes to loyalty cards).

Sometimes these promotions promise a lot, but actually getting your money back might not be as simple as slashing a few cents at the checkout – you might need to send the coupon somewhere to get the discount, or wait for points to accumulate on your card.

That being said, you can optimise your discounts using several online sites that allow you to combine your loyalty cards (Fidme, Fidall, and Stocard). Other online coupon sites include Groupon, which allows you to make grouped purchases (therefore cheaper), and Coupon Network and Shopmium, which help you benefit from existing discounts. For cashback plans, you can look to websites such as Shopmium, iGraal, FidMarques and Quoty, which allow you to be reimbursed for a part of your expenses.

Make a list, set a budget… and stick to it

It might seem obvious, but when you go into the store, try to resist temptation. The best way to do this is to keep track (in real time) how much you are spending.

Some stores make this easier by allowing you to carry around a ‘self-scanner,’ this will help you to watch your bill go up as you shop. Another tip for this is to withdraw the exact amount of cash you expect to need for the essentials of your trip – obviously in order to do this, you’ll need to know the base prices of your essential items, so it will require a bit of planning ahead.

Buy (then freeze) soon-to-expire products

A consumer’s best friend and sure-fire way to decrease waste! Items coming up on their use-by-date tend to be discounted, so if you plan to purchase these foods and then immediately freeze them, you can significantly extend their shelf life.

Lots of supermarkets make this easier for you by dedicating entire shelves to “short shelf life” items that, according to Elodie Toustou, the head of the “Money” section of the magazine 60 Millions de consommateurs, opting for these foods will allow you to “pay three to four times less.”

Another great way to do this is to use applications like “Phénix” and “Too Good to Go.” These applications will allow you to set your geographic parameter and then click on food stores, restaurants, and bakeries in your area that are getting rid of “panniers” (sacks) of soon-to-be-expired foods. Lots of times these panniers cost only a couple euros.

The trick here is to plan ahead by arriving at the start of the allotted time (if the boulangerie on your corner is offering “Too Good To Go” bags from 11am to 2pm, try to get there as close to 11am as possible for the best items).

Re-consider markets and farmer’s stores

Contrary to popular belief, buying from farmers’ markets and grocers that sell predominantly local products actually can save you money, particularly if you are buying the seasonally relevant fruits and vegetables. Buying directly from a producer can also allow you to eliminate the margin taken by intermediaries. But be careful, this rule is not true all the time.

One way to benefit from cheaper prices at markets is to arrive as late as possible, when the merchants have started to pack up their products. This might allow you to benefit from lower prices or even free items, as they’ll be hoping to get rid of their remaining items.

Know what items are most impacted by inflation

Finally, as inflation continues to increase, try your best to monitor which foods are most impacted. If possible, it might be worth removing or limiting them from your diet – or looking for more affordable alternatives.

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