Strategically Shopping Paris Winter Sales

By Karen Fawcett

Dedicated France shoppers know the French government dictates when the biannual sales are held. The winter sales generally begin on the second Wednesday of January; summer sales are slated to start on the third Wednesday of June. Each sale period lasts five weeks and there are two flash one-week sales between these times.

What many people don’t know is it’s illegal for stores to have sales or promotions two weeks prior to the official start date and clothes legally must be in the store’s stock for a minimum of a month before shoppers line up to make a killing. This allows people to pre-select what purchases they want to make. If you’re a loyal client or even especially nice, the sales person might put the items away for you, but don’t tell.

Tips to get the most for your euros during the sales

Make a list of what you need and zero in on them. Don’t get distracted or they may be gone.

If you have a foreign credit card, alert the issuing bank that you plan to embark on a shopping spree and in which locations. There’s nothing more frustrating than arriving at the cash register and having cards declined, which is happening more frequently these days as credit card companies are instituting enhanced fraud protection. That’s all well and good until it dashes your hopes of leaving with the goods. Anyone who has tried reaching a bank’s fraud department from an overseas store…well, unless it’s Hermès or Cartier, forget it.

Don’t forget to file for the détaxe (tax refund) if you’re a non-EU resident and leaving France. A 19.6% VAT (Value Added Tax) is levied and to qualify for net refund of approximately 14%, you must spend a minimum of €175 in one store in the same day. If you need to buy a little of this and a little of that, do your shopping at one of the large Paris department stores and chances are good you’ll spend at least that amount by consolidating your purchases in one store. If you’re considering buying a specific fragrance or cosmetics at an airport Duty Free store, buy it now. Paris department stores have a greater selection of items and Duty Free stores aren’t profit-free. If you haven’t met the minimum, one or two items should do it.

Before you leave the store, go to the store’s Détaxe Office (or counter) and complete the paperwork there. Yes, you can do it from overseas but you’ll wish you hadn’t since it’s a pain in the derrière. Complete the required forms, be sure to have your passport (or a photocopy of the key pages) and you’ll be given two copies of the paperwork with a stamped envelope that you’ll need to deposit in the mailbox typically located where you’ll file the paperwork.

Some Paris department stores give tourists a 10% discount. You’ll find department store discount coupons printed on Paris maps typically available at hotels, in some city guides and tourist-oriented magazines plus the official Paris Tourist Offices operated by the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau. Ask and you shall find. Think savings: you’ll be buying at the sale price and will be entitled to approximately an additional 24% discount. Pas mal.

At the airport: Pack the items you’ve purchased in a suitcase or a box that can be shown to the customs officer. Even though it happens relatively infrequently, you may be asked to show your bargains. If you can’t produce them at that time, forget collecting the détaxe. Request that the refund be credited to your credit card rather than by check because who needs a euro-denominated check if you’ll be in a non-EU country.


Try not to get in line behind a group of Japanese shoppers because shopping is the #1 activity for some when in Paris. If you walk by Hermès or Louis Vuitton on the Champs-Elysées—well, you’d think there were fire sales based on the number of people waiting outside to snag these designers’ wares.

If you like shopping in boutiques, the longer the sale has gone on, the more chance there is you’ll be able to score a small additional discount. Ask to speak to the owner or the senior manager, make the request nicely and you may luck out—especially if what you’re buying is expensive. Ditto for quantity.

Stay focused: Keep in mind that most French people make the majority of their purchases during the sales periods. You’re going to have serious competition.

Think ahead: If you have children or grandchildren, buy for the future. Even if you’re buying something that will be last year’s model, who cares? And besides, if it’s from a good store in Paris, chances are it will be ahead of the style period.

Paris Grands Magasins (major department stores):

Galeries Lafayette


Le Bon Marché



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