LONG-awaited summer sales started across most of France this morning - with shopkeepers praying for some money flowing into trading accounts that have seen sales 4% down since the start of the year.
The five weeks of official Soldes d'été come as shops are bulging with unsold clothing after disastrous spring weather and economic uncertainty kept customers' hands in their pockets.
Jean-Marc Genis, president of clothing stores' group Fédération des Enseignes de l'Habillement, told Le Figaro: "Shops had expected a difficult year with the economic crisis, but not the weather."
They had cut back on stock orders but had seen sales plummet by 17% in April because of the storms. Even when the market picked up in May sales were still down 4%.
So they started in-shop promotions to get stocks down to nearly normal for the summer sales and will start with prices cut by 30-50%. However, they know customers have become used to continual price-cutting and fear the sales - their second most important money-spinner after the winter sales - will fail.
Customers have also cut their budgets, with an Ipsos poll showing they plan to spend an average of €223 against last year's €259.
January's winter sales had been disappointing until the sustained cold weather started a rush for warm clothing so shopkeepers are praying for good summer weather to persuade shoppers into the shops again to stock up.
Météo France is forecasting "warm and fine weather everywhere" after a gloomy start to the week across most of France.
Shop staff at Galeries Lafayette have won a small victory over their working hours, with a court decision backing a union plea to halt night-time opening for the BHV Rivoli and Galeries Lafayette Haussmann stores. The shops will close at 20.00.
One unseen aspect of the fall in sales has been that consumer lending has also fallen, with figures for May showing loans down 9.4% from the same month in 2011, with lending over the year down 18.6%. Personal loans were down 10.9%, car loans by 10% and household loans by 1.1%.
* Sales in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur will not start until July 4.