Wednesday, January 07, 2015

The French consumer really ought to feel grateful to the French service sector for actually serving them

… today is the first day of the winter soldes – the sales
exclaims Stephen Clarke.
 … any shop daring to start its soldes before 8am, even online, could have been hit with a hefty fine. The sales are defined in article D 310-15-2 of France’s code du commerce, and various government websites publish timetables giving the exact dates when they’re permitted to start and finish.

Strange, you might think, to be so strict. Surely the French government should be rebooting the economy, letting businesses do what they want to make money? We’ve recently been told that two major links in the French retail chain are about to break. Surcouf, a computer shop, and the Virgin Megastores are putting their electronic keys under their mousepads. You’d think that France would have encouraged them to slash prices and tempt in the customers before things got too bad. Mais non. You will begin your winter sales on (and I quote) “8 o’clock on the morning of the second Wednesday in January, except if it falls after the 12th, in which case the sales will begin on the first Wednesday of January.” It’s the same for the summer sales, except they’re on the last Wednesday of June. And they can only last for five weeks.

To us free-market Anglos, it sounds crazy. If I as a shopkeeper want to cut my profits and clear my shelves or racks before, say, going ski-ing or heading off on a stockbuying trip, why shouldn’t I?

The simple answer is: because you’re in France. But to get some more subtle detail on the subject, I turned to an expert, Pascale Hebel, head of the consumer department of the Crédoc, the Centre de Recherche pour l’Étude et l’Observations des Conditions de Vie.

“It’s all about protecting small businesses,” she told me. “The law stops big chain stores cutting prices whenever they want, and it also makes it illegal to sell anything at a loss, even during sales periods. That way, small businesses, who can’t afford to sell too cheaply, have a fair chance.”

This is similar to the French law that protects small bookshops – even the on-line giants can’t take more than 5% off the recommended retail price of a book, which explains why there are still so many independents (and, incidentally, why French books are so incredibly expensive – the French large paperback edition of my 1000 Years of Annoying the French costs 21 euros, compared to about £9 full price in the UK.)

 … In short, in sounds like business as usual – the French consumer really ought to feel grateful to the French service sector for actually serving them.