The Paris Sale Season: The Truth

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It’s almost Wednesday, the day that most of France officially goes on sale. The five-week season begins early this year, thanks to “la crise,” which has put a damper on spending across the globe. Parisian boutiques traditionally begin the sales with a 20 percent discount, but this year they are planning to cut prices 30 percent from Day One, with discounts improving as the weeks progress. That’s the good news.

Now the bad news: the crowds. Lines begin early at boutiques and department stores throughout the country. I have never witnessed the scene at Galeries Lafayette and Printemps, but at the Bon Marché people start arriving around 7 a.m. There are cordoned-off lines at the most popular stands, with guards monitoring the melee at Gucci, Chanel and Dior. But that is only the first day, because by the second day these departments have nothing left.

Now for the cold, hard truth: we’re a bit late to the party. The local boutiques have private sales weeks before the season begins, inviting their favorite customers to come in and make their purchases before the hordes arrive. To keep it legal, the sales are in cash or postdated check. It all sounds terribly frustrating, and unfair, but there is hope! The very existence of these presales means that there is opportunity there. The secret is to hit your favorite boutiques before the sales begin and start negotiating for yourself.

Not everyone is comfortable with the idea of bargaining in a store. I certainly am not. But since moving here I have picked up a few tricks that I use about a week before the sales begin:

1. Ask the staff if the item will be soldé. If yes, then ask if they can put it on hold, at which point they often offer an immediate discount.

2. Ask when the sales begin. This has often resulted in an immediate discount, and if not can continue into a conversation about the sales: “What will the discount be?” “What will be discounted?” This may eventually lead to the hoped-for discount.

3. Ask if they can offer the sale price for cash payment.

4. Ask if there will be pré-soldes (pronounced “pray sold”) and if you can be advised of the dates.

I have had success with these methods at a variety of stores, from the chic boutiques on the Faubourg St.-Honoré to the trendy shops in the Marais, without excluding very basic stores in the outer areas. I have not done a scientific study, but if they have a dedicated sales staff, it is worth a try. That means places like Monoprix and Uniqlo will not be a good bet. Which is OK, because it evens the playing field for everyone.

Don’t worry too much about being late—the party is still going on, and there are some great finds out there, with the bargains getting better as time progresses. Last year I was going by a boutique on the last day of the sales, and I got a pair of Dior boots for 30 percent off of 30 percent off of 30 percent off. Several years ago it was a gorgeous chocolate wool Burberry blazer that I continue to wear weekly.

There are a few stores to avoid: Louis Vuitton, Hermès and American Apparel. These stores don’t have a party at all and refuse to mark down merchandise. Of course, if you have the budget, this is the perfect time for these boutiques, because most shoppers will be elsewhere, looking for a bargain.

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