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.
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.
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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.