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Sold on the Soldes or Big Box Bargains?

The French word “soldes” means “balances,” such as an outstanding balance on an account (“solde créditeur,” “solde débiteur” or “solde à payer”) but it also means “on sale.”

There are only two times a year that the French government allows a retail business to place its merchandise “en soldes” — Winter and Summer. The Summer Soldes begin today in Paris, while other parts of France may differ in timing. In the Alpes-Maritimes (department 06) and the Pyrénées-Orientales (department 66), the sales will begin July 1st and run through August 11th. In Corsica, where I will be mid August, the sales don’t start until July 8th, but run to August 18th, so there will be a chance for us vacationers to take advantage of the good deals.

In typical French fashion, the regulations surrounding the Soldes are stringent. “The practice of sales is strictly framed and traders must meet numerous constraints, including authorized periods or sale products. Each of the two legal periods of sales should last six weeks, with exemptions for some tourist and border areas.” (Translation by Bing [])

Outside of these dates, merchants can offer “promotions” on goods they restock, but don’t sell at a loss. Sale products must have been for sale and paid for at least one month before the start of the Soldes and if caught, the fine is €15,000. Whoa! They aren’t messing around!

Obviously, these kinds of restrictions on a merchant are completely anti ‘free enterprise.’ In our American, capitalistic world, this would be unthinkable. It’s no wonder ENA (École Nationale d’Administration) does not teach “Economics 101” (the basic principles of supply and demand). They don’t need to. They’re too busy creating and following the rules to let one of the most fundamental concepts of economics be its backbone.*

*”Demand refers to how much (quantity) of a product or service is desired by buyers. The quantity demanded is the amount of a product people are willing to buy at a certain price; the relationship between price and quantity demanded is known as the demand relationship. Supply represents how much the market can offer. The quantity supplied refers to the amount of a certain good producers are willing to supply when receiving a certain price. The correlation between price and how much of a good or service is supplied to the market is known as the supply relationship. Price, therefore, is a reflection of supply and demand.

If I sound sarcastic, it’s because even after 20 years of watching the Summer and Winter sales come and go, I’ve avoided them ‘like the plague.’ Not only are these regulations anti-free enterprise, but they are anti-consumer, too, and don’t really serve anyone.

Sure, you can really get great bargains during those 12 weeks a year, but a bargain-hunter must wait for these two sale periods to save money and then battle the other bargain-hunters head on. When the sale period arrives, it becomes chaos in the stores and boutiques! People are known to wait hours in advance of a store opening to be the first to hit the sale racks and everyone is scrambling to find the best deals. Walking down rue de Rivoli between rue du Louvre and the Hôtel de Ville can be like maneuvering Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras. I’ve seen fights break out between two feisty shoppers, vying for the same item! Nope, that’s not for me.

Of course, it may even be worse for the merchant who is stuck with inventory he can’t sell when he wants, but the laws that are designed to protect the consumer don’t care about that. Unfortunately, when it’s not good for the merchant, it’s not good for the consumer, either, who likely prefers to have an opportunity on bargains year-round instead of only twice a year. I’m not the only one to be critical of the Soldes. Bloggers write about it regularly, but there’s not really much we can do to change the legal landscape. It’s France’s legal system that is based on what’s allowed, rather than what’s forbidden (like the American constitution) that’s at the core of the problem.

I just received a text message on my cell phone: “Profitez de 15 euros de réduction cumulable sur les Soldes!” It was the first, but am sure it’s not the last.

Will I take advantage of the Soldes? Likely not. Fighting the crowds is not my ‘idea of heaven.’ Guess I’ll be paying retail in France the rest of my life. (Or is the alternative “big box retailers” like Wal-Mart?)

Note: Download the official PDF brochure.

A la prochaine,

Adrian Leeds
The Adrian Leeds Group

(circa 1970)

Respond to Adrian

P.S. For those of you in the New York City area, who would like to know more about investing in France, I will be available for private consultations on July 8th and 9th. Consultations are typically two hours, and I will be offering my usual euro fee at the same rate, but in U.S. dollars. Email me personally to make your appointment: [email protected]


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