Soldes! The signs filled the store windows in July when we had newly arrived in Grenoble, but we were too busy acclimating to French life here and trying to find an apartment to pay too much attention to these mysterious signs. We were still unfamiliar with commerce in France, so we eyed the shops with ignorance. What was this “soldes,” anyway? Amy, a fellow expat-American told us that when she first came here years ago, she saw them too. She knew that soldes meant sale and thought all of these stores with signs were going through financial difficulty and were going out of business: “For Sale.”
But with the present soldes d’hiver (winter sales), it wasn’t until now that we have been able to learn what this all means. It may seem unbelievable to Americans and many other people reading this that in France, there is a prescribed time that stores can sell merchandise (legally) for less—what we know as “on sale.” Forget the weekly Sunday newspapers loaded with glossy advertisements for J.C. Penney sales and Belk Days. There are only two legal periods—the soldes d’hiver in January and February and the soldes d’été (summer sales) in June and July. Le Ministre de l’Économie, des Finances, et de l’Industrie (the Minister of Economy, Finance, and Industry) regulates this activity, and the present leader is Christine Lagarde. The ministry has standardized the sale periods throughout France. (There are some mysterious exceptions.) For 2011, the official winter sales in France are le mercredi 12 janvier 2011 à 8 heures du matin, et finiront le mardi 15 février 2011 inclusive. That means Wednesday, January 12 at 8 am until Tuesday, February 15 inclusive. On the books, the winter sales will begin on the second Wednesday of January unless it falls after the 12th and will continue for five weeks (except if there’s a full moon. :-) Got that? There is no debate about the dates or the times. No just-after-midnight-Black Friday-Best Buy openings here.
You are probably wondering how this all works. So was I. The law specifies that items for sale must be on-site at the store at least a month before the start of a sale and physically on the sales floor at least a week before. So, most of the offerings are primarily end-of-season items. Other discount products that are on the premises to entice shoppers into stores because they are less expensive than the store’s usual stock are required to be labeled with the word promotion, not solde. The intent is to prevent commercially harming smaller boutiques and shops whose regular customers might be enticed to the bigger stores’ ability to cut prices, which may cause disloyal competition. It’s called leveling the playing field, and safeguarding the retailers fits with other legislation that is intended to protect agricultural producers and small independent manufacturers who are big contributors to France’s international economic esteem.
When I had heard of the soldes, I decided to forage for a pair of winter boots because in the Alps, there is always the threat of snow. Most of my friends here encouraged me to shop early. Yes, the discounts will get progressively better going from 20% to 50% or even 70% over the progressive weeks, but as time goes on, what’s left in your size disappears. I’ve read it compared to solde roulette, taking a gamble on what will be available.
With that in mind, on Wednesday, the 12th, I boarded Tram “A” for Grandplace, a big mall in la Villeneuve, just south of Grenoble, that promised to be full of boot possibilities. I arrived around 10 am and spent some time comparing prices and trying on boots. I found a pair, sadly at only 20% off, and decided to buy them and get out of the increasingly crowded mall. Of course, everybody with their kids in tow showed up around 13h (1pm) because schools are on half days on Wednesdays. Content with my booty (pun intended), I hightailed it out of there.
On Saturday, Steve decided to try his luck in centre ville Grenoble for some shirts. I declined the opportunity to do any more shopping. He returned to the apartment in about an hour empty handed, but he did have tales of packed streets and stores.
Hmm … maybe the French aren’t that different from the Black Friday shoppers in America after all..
*Les soldes d’été 2011 débutent le mercredi 22 juin 2011 à 8h du matin jusqu’au mardi 26 juillet. 5 semaines. Put it on your calendar!