January 31st, 2008

French sales: la difference

The LA Times describes a French shopping phenomenon that seems positively archaic: retail stores only have sales twice a year.

In the US, land of the perpetual discount, this may seem odd indeed. Even in France, there is opposition; Sarkozy, for example, is trying to broaden the rules to allow more freedom in this respect in hopes of giving the stagnant economy an extra boost.

“Broaden the rules?” you may ask. “What rules?”

It’s the law that French sales are limited to two times a year, January and June or July. And all stores must have them at the same time. This makes competition fair, according to French thinking (yes, the French are different from you and me).

But France is not alone. Many European countries—Belgium, Italy, Spain, and Greece—have the same sort of bans. What’s more, even during a sale they usually can’t sell below cost, or advertise in advance.

France and many other countries in Europe aren’t called nanny states for nothing. There’s an attitude that, without government control over even the smallest elements of life, human nature would be so red in tooth and claw that we’d tear each other apart, even in Bon Marche.

Actually, the regulations don’t prevent a certain feeding frenzy that prevails during sale time; the article describes those couple of weeks as “mayhem” on the boulevards of France. But nevertheless the prevailing French attitude is that:

…competition isn’t considered possible without regulation to set a time and place for it.

Actually, there is some method to their madness. Somewhat like legislation to protect endangered species that otherwise would become extinct:

…these laws are aimed at preventing big stores from driving smaller ones out of business.

There’s a darker side, as well:

Some [of the laws] are said to have originated in the mid-1930s in Germany, when the Nazi Party wanted to protect the public from what it regarded as overly competitive “Jewish” practices by some shopkeepers.

Germany, however, freed itself from the last of such rules in 2004, and polls in France indicate that following suit would be a popular move.

Not that there isn’t some resistance to the change, even among those who love sales. As one avid French shopper says:

I’m always embarrassed to be seen on the Metro with so many bags [during sale time], so I stuff everything in one bag together…I don’t want people to think I’m a materialist.

Non, non, non, we wouldn’t want that, would we? How gauche, how bourgeois, how juif.

18 Responses to “French sales: la difference”

  1. rocscssrs Says:

    There’s another “dark” side. When I worked in a bookstore in the 1990′s we used to get a lot of German tourists in. They told me that books over there were about three times as expensive. I especially remember two young German women who were studying American literature at home buying 30-40 paperback classics apiece because it was so much cheaper, even with sending them back to Germany.

    Of course, thanks to Borders, Walmart and Amazon, the tiny bookstore I worked at is no longer in business!

  2. expat Says:

    roc,

    They have something called book price binding that prohibits stores from discounting books. The idea is to maximize profits for books that sell to subsidize the publication of academic works that no one will ever buy or read.

    With regard to sales, it was amazing to hear the discussion about dropping the two sales a year law here. People acted as though it would be illegal to have an end of season sale. The concept of markets organizing themselves is incomprehensible.

    That was nothing compared to the regulation of store hours. Twenty years ago, shops had to close at 6:30 during the week and 1:oo on Saturdays, except for the first Saturday of the month when they could stay open till 6:30. It was a royal pain especially for working folks who might want to scout around for things like furniture.

  3. Queued Says:

    From an old Steven DenBeste article:

    “…European rules which strongly impede the ability of companies to lay off workers have the result of lowering overall economic growth. There are two reasons why: it decreases the benefit of new investment, and it prevents new industries from forming…”

  4. Danny Lemieux Says:

    Europe is largely a “producer-driven” economy, whereas the U.S. is a “consumer-driven” economy. I think (West) Europeans in general dislike the idea of competition. Limiting shopping hours and sales discounts provides a layer of regulation on consumer demand.

    By supporting the power of producers, I suppose they believe that they are protecting jobs (although their high joblessness rates certainly question that assumption). Personally, I think that it is more to protect their elites and aristocratic classes (the owners of companies).

    Note that in the U.S., the names on the top-100 companies roster are always changing. In Europe, they pretty much stay the same (they are protected).

    Bottom-line, the typical European consumer really gets hit hard in the wallet. Remember, they already pay huge Value Added Taxes on-top-of high prices.

  5. ZZMike Says:

    Tres amusant, as they say. For some odd reason, I’m reminded of the British news story from the last few days about the shopkeeper who was arrested for selling produce in pounds and ounces. Her Imperial scale was confiscated as well.

    I sympathesize with rocscssrs’ point about the bookstore that’s no longer there. I knew 2 or 3 in my area, just like that, here yesteryear and gone today. But the prices at Borders are still lower than the small booksellers’. Some bookstores survive as “second-hand bookstores”.

    There’s a store near here that’s been having a “going out of business” sale for at least 4 years.

  6. Ymarsakar Says:

    It’s the law that French sales are limited to two times a year, January and June or July

    And people still wonder why the French Revolution failed in comparison to the successful American one, even though they happened almost side by side historically.

    This is one of the reasons why.

    This makes competition fair, according to French thinking (yes, the French are different from you and me).

    Every nation’s character is different. And it is quite amazing how it translates to individuals in that nation as well. Not everyone of course, but more than enough to matter.

    France and many other countries in Europe aren’t called nanny states for nothing. There’s an attitude that, without government control over even the smallest elements of life, human nature would be so red in tooth and claw that we’d tear each other apart, even in Bon Marche.

    And guess what, they call their governments “democratic socialism”. Which I refered to as one of the legs in the triangle of death, along with Communism and National Socialism.

    I don’t want people to think I’m a materialist.

    Just be glad you are’t thought of as American.

    I think (West) Europeans in general dislike the idea of competition.

    Because businesses have learned that with such strong government controls, you must either be in government or have the government in your pocket. And that is what many of the largest corporations in Europe does. They have the government in their pockets.

    For all that the Europeans tend to accuse Americans of being controlled by Big Business, it was European companies that made the gross majority of profits off UN contracts to Saddam in Oil for Food. Why? Because that is how they usually do business. Find a loophole in the government, like the UN, and then exploit it for advantage. If they try something else, like honest competition, they would be incapable of surviving in Europe’s socialist utopia.

    By supporting the power of producers, I suppose they believe that they are protecting jobs

    They are protecting the jobs of their political supporters, patrons, and dependents, yes. The French aristocrats like to patronize workers. That is their tradition as well as the tradition of most European countries that had a monarchy and an aristocracy.

    How can you patronize workers if workers were allowed to work for anyone?

    I think that it is more to protect their elites and aristocratic classes (the owners of companies).

    You were on the same thought track that I was, it seems.

    When the Romans conquered Spain and Gaul, France, it was all down hill from there. That may be a coincidence, or it may not.

  7. SC&A Says:

    As much as it pains me to extend any kindness to the frogs across the channel, it is also true that ‘below the table’ dealings are as French as stinky French fromage.

    France and most other European nations circumvent the laws you describe and deliberately avoid paying exorbitant taxes whenever possible.

    The underground economy in France and on the Continent is enormous- and that in part helps to explain the perpetual financial precipice that is a part of Euro-reality (such as it is).

    Exorbitant uncollected taxes are no fun, even for Gauloise chain smoking, film noir loving, superior Europeans.

    And that’s why the Euros come to America to shop.

  8. Sergey Says:

    That is how every socialist utopia comes to stagnation and, eventually, collapse: it creates a huge gap between official picture of events and reality, beginning with a vast black market. In the last years of Soviet Union shops counters were empty, and almost all goods can be purchased only below the table.

  9. harry9000 Says:

    expat:
    “Twenty years ago, shops had to close at 6:30 during the week and 1:oo on Saturdays, except for the first Saturday of the month when they could stay open till 6:30. It was a royal pain especially for working folks who might want to scout around for things like furniture.”

    Then along came St. Opra who declaired closing a French shoe store at such an early hour constituted racism. The French a owe a debt of thanks to the Opra.

  10. OBloodyhell Says:

    > …competition isn’t considered possible without regulation to set a time and place for it.

    BWAAAAAhahahahahahahahahaaaaaa!!!

    Loons. They’re all loons.

    Open Mouth.
    Insert Clue.
    Repeat as necessary.

  11. Fausta Says:

    Not only are the timing of sales regulated, retailers are forbidden by law of reducing the retail price below cost, so they never have the option of “loss leaders” to bring people into the shops, or the option of simply marking down a dud to get rid of it.

  12. Ymarsakar Says:

    I think the FOunding Fathers feel very vindicated by their risk in choosing to fight Britain, the superpower of their day.

  13. Ymarsakar Says:

    test

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_PNT1LVZkNc

  14. Ymarsakar Says:

    People should go here for another laugh at the French.

    Bo]n[us for Roman Republic lovers

  15. Paul Says:

    As fun as it is to satirize the French, there’s actually a worthy argument on the other side of this: the French and many other people around the world prefer a more stable, peaceful, harmonious society. Such a society has its downsides, but overall the French choose to accept those in return for real benefits. The tone of the LAT article and most of your commentary is “those nutty French, how completely illogical they are!” but this only serves to show how little actual thinking you’ve done. Here’s how the issue was pithily captured in the NY Times a few years ago:

    “Yes, life is expensive: a web of protectionist regulations has kept a lid on the ability to save money at discount stores and restaurant chains. But that has also kept neighborhood bistros and bakers and cheese shops and charcuteries in business far longer than in most other developed economies, creating a rich fabric of daily life that everyone loves. It is one reason France draws more tourists than any other country each year.”

    More tourists than any other country! That’s amazing. And obviously a fairly significant business benefit, no?

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/06/weekinreview/06smith.html

  16. ZZMike Says:

    “… creating a rich fabric of daily life that everyone loves…. ”

    Part of which is the semi-annual Burning of the Autos; the 9% unemployment rate (closer to 20% for the under-25); the yearly strikes in just about every sector. In the world of academe, France gave us Derrida and Lyotard. On the other hand, they gave us Mr Hulot and Truffaut, so they’re not all bad. (Hulot and Truffaut, however, are still dead, still unreplaced.)

  17. Danny Lemieux Says:

    Ah, yes, Paul. Order. Once they surrender their political and economic liberty, that’s what they will have. Be obedient, and the State will provide them with all their needs. Order. Bismark, Mussolini, Hitler, Lenin, Stalin…order. That sure worked well, didn’t it?

  18. Home Interiors Says:

    By supporting the power of producers, I suppose they believe that they are protecting jobs (although their high joblessness rates certainly question that assumption). Personally, I think that it is more to protect their elites and aristocratic classes (the owners of companies).

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>



About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
Read More >>








Blogroll

Ace (bold)
AmericanDigest (writer’s digest)
AmericanThinker (thought full)
Anchoress (first things first)
AnnAlthouse (more than law)
AtlasShrugs (fearless)
AugeanStables (historian’s task)
Baldilocks (outspoken)
Barcepundit (theBrainInSpain)
Beldar (Texas lawman)
BelmontClub (deep thoughts)
Betsy’sPage (teach)
Bookworm (writingReader)
Breitbart (big)
ChicagoBoyz (boyz will be)
Contentions (CommentaryBlog)
DanielInVenezuela (against tyranny)
DeanEsmay (conservative liberal)
Donklephant (political chimera)
Dr.Helen (rights of man)
Dr.Sanity (thinking shrink)
DreamsToLightening (Asher)
EdDriscoll (market liberal)
Fausta’sBlog (opinionated)
GayPatriot (self-explanatory)
HadEnoughTherapy? (yep)
HotAir (a roomful)
InFromTheCold (once a spook)
InstaPundit (the hub)
JawaReport (the doctor is Rusty)
LegalInsurrection (law prof)
RedState (conservative)
Maggie’sFarm (centrist commune)
MelaniePhillips (formidable)
MerylYourish (centrist)
MichaelTotten (globetrotter)
MichaelYon (War Zones)
Michelle Malkin (clarion pen)
Michelle Obama's Mirror (reflections)
MudvilleGazette (milblog central)
NoPasaran! (behind French facade)
NormanGeras (principled leftist)
OneCosmos (Gagdad Bob’s blog)
PJMedia (comprehensive)
PointOfNoReturn (Jewish refugees)
Powerline (foursight)
ProteinWisdom (wiseguy)
QandO (neolibertarian)
RachelLucas (in Italy)
RogerL.Simon (PJ guy)
SecondDraft (be the judge)
SeekerBlog (inquiring minds)
SisterToldjah (she said)
Sisu (commentary plus cats)
Spengler (Goldman)
TheDoctorIsIn (indeed)
Tigerhawk (eclectic talk)
VictorDavisHanson (prof)
Vodkapundit (drinker-thinker)
Volokh (lawblog)
Zombie (alive)

Regent Badge