Monday, July 07, 2008

Soldes-ing Out: Paris goes bargain hunting

There are two times of year that all budget-conscious Parisians anticipate with that friendly competitiveness shared among all bargain hunters: those several gray weeks following the holiday season, and the (usually) sunnier ones that officially kick off the summer.

A continental phenomenon, Les Soldes offer retailers the opportunity to clear out the current season’s inventory, and consumers the chance to claim ownership of items that they couldn’t have otherwise afforded…or wouldn’t have bothered to buy. With the French consumer’s weakened buying power a hot topic for the nation’s president, scribblers and talking heads, Les Soldes, for many, is not just the best time to hit the stores…it’s the only time.

This summer, the purchasing orgy began on June 25th and will continue until the beginning of August. Initial markdowns run anywhere from 10 to 25 percent, growing more considerable as time marches on. By the end, shoppers can rack up to anywhere between 50 and 75 percent in savings. This inevitably leads to the classic Soldes debate: should I take the 30 percent discount on this pair of pumps that I will probably only wear twice in the next year and consider myself lucky, or do I take the chance and see if they still have my size in three week’s time, when they’re bound to be cheaper? If ever one were to assign a theme song to accompany this event they might choose ‘The Gambler:’ knowing when to fold and knowing when to hold out are crucial skills in the successful navigation of Les Soldes.

While items such as house wares have crept into the product mix, Les Soldes, for the most part, is targeted at fashion victims, with discounts applied to clothes, shoes (unadvisable to hold out too long for those), handbags and accessories. Strategic in times when there isn’t a deal to be had, bargain-hunting parisiennes assume the cold-hearted determination of a general at war when it comes to getting their dainty hands on a frock that is soldé, and in the weeks leading up to opening day, many a lunch hour is spent seeking out, trying on and, in some cases, hiding the coveted garment from any other Soldes-goers that may threaten to throw a wrench in one’s purchasing coup. If the going gets really tough, these otherwise docile creatures aren’t above using baby strollers as weapons…and naïve is the girl who thinks that the slow-moving elderly woman standing in front of the dress rack doesn’t know how to use her elbows if you get too close to the object of her desire.

‘All’s fair in love and war,’ goes the saying, and in times of Soldes, one can safely throw ‘shopping’ into the mix.