Fears greet start of winter sales

Fewer bargain-hunters and less money to spend - retailers prepare to cut prices to get rid of surplus stock

11 January 2012

WINTER sales start today but shopkeepers are preparing for bad news with fewer bargain-hunters than last year spending less money than last year.

Even the twice-yearly soldes ritual is coming under threat as the younger generation of shoppers prefers all-year-round bargains and manufacturers have moved away from the two seasons a year to a cycle of six or seven range launches throughout the year.

In addition, the internet is still the source for the best bargains with online sites expecting to notch up €45 billion of sales in 2012 - up from the €8bn in 2005.

Starting today and running until February 14, the sales are heavily regulated by competition laws. They are the only time when shops can legally sell merchandise at a loss and some spectacular deals are expected.

While many shops are sticking with trusted offers of up to 50% off, the mild weather has meant people have not been rushing to buy jumpers and winter coats and there are set to be bargains of up to 70% at La Redoute and even 90% off in online retailers such as Brandalley. High Street perfume store Sephora has also said it will be cutting prices by up to 70%.

Economy Minister François Baroin, opening the sale this morning at Galeries Lafayette department store on Boulevard Haussmann in Paris, said that he hoped the sales would "encourage consumer sales" during a time of "sluggish" economy.

Last year the sales accounted for 35% of clothing purchases, the Institut Français de la Mode said and this year the average budget is expected to be €244 - €7 down on last year - but only 76% of people say they will be out hunting bargains, against 85% last year.

IFM head of research Gildas Minvielle said that they expected the early days to be the "most important". He said people would be "reasonable with their spending" although Pascale Hébel, the head of consumer research at study group Crédoc, said "everyone is expecting the sales to be bad". She added: "We are expecting that French people will be looking after their wallets."

Shops have plenty stock to get rid of as retailers placed orders at the beginning of last year when the economic outlook was not quite so grim - and then, in August, purchases slumped by 6% as the outlook worsened. In addition, they have been hit by the mild weather reducing the numbers browsing the aisles.

Now, with year-long sales - and shops making use of their right to have two weeks of soldes flottants non-fixed sales - the market has changed and the government is said to be looking at a new sales regime to be introduced in 2013.

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