What you need to know about France’s winter sales

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)
Four weeks of winter sales are set to begin in most of France this week - but in some areas, they have already started.

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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