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Winter sales set to be damp squib

Weeks of promotions before and after Christmas have diluted the effect of the official sales

WINTER sales start tomorrow across most of France and last until February 12 – but to judge by many shop windows they have been well under way for weeks with wide-ranging “promotions” to get rid of unsold stock.

The sales are bound by strict legal regulations but, with customers keeping purses closed in the weeks before Christmas, many shop-keepers turned to “ventes privées” where they discounted goods for shop-card holders and held invite-only sales for previous customers.

Jean-Marc Génis, of the FEH clothing federation, told Les Echos: “With many styles having a shop life of just six weeks it is logical to hold permanent promotions to clear goods at all costs to make space for new stock.”

However, Daniel Wertin of the women’s ready-to-wear federation said the sales were the only time when traders could sell at a loss and anyone who was selling at a loss was desperate to get rid of stock that they had over-ordered.

He said in a statement: “It is time to get rid of the archaic prix de référence which does away with the notion of a fair price and means nothing in this time of over-abundance of sales of every type. Let’s get back to the magic of a customer buying something just because she likes it.”

An opinion poll for shopping malls’ group CNCC agreed, saying that 65% of people used the winter sales to buy “useful clothing” and not for pleasure.

Competition from European neighbours was also raised by Bernard Morvan of the FEH, who called for European laws to be rewritten to set a common sales date to “stop customers heading to England, Belgium or Luxembourg on December 26”.

French people seem to be massively in favour of the sales, with between 74% and 95% saying they would take advantage of the cheaper prices – although one in three customers plans to trim the budget.

The laws on the winter sales, the code de commerce, say that they will last for five weeks and that customers’ rights are maintained – so notices saying “No exchange or refund” are illegal for goods that are faulty. The sale periods should also apply on the internet.

• Designer store Desigual is running its annual Seminaked sale on January 8 – and the Paris shop will be making that literally true, by getting customers to run 100m in their lingerie. The first 100 will get a free top and trousers or skirt plus other goodies.

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