Paris sales - les soldes - offer savvy shoppers huge bargains twice each year in January and July as stores slash their prices on current merchandise to make room for the new season.
This is your chance to save 30% to as much as 70% and more as Prada, go on sale during these special events.
Here's the catch: during each official 5-6 week sale period, prices drop in stages. First-day shoppers get the best selection, but usually only a 20-30% reduction. If you wait for the price to drop more on those Prada sneakers you've been coveting, you risk losing them to someone else.
That's where our 10 best tips and strategies can help you find the biggest bargains and find the best places to shop in the Paris sales.
If you are traveling to Paris for the sales, consider arriving a couple of days or even a week early. If you can snag a half price Hermès Birkin bag at the sale, for example, you'll save enough to pay for an extra night or two in a hotel.
If you don't have time to pre-select items before the sales, at least identify your top goal (shoes vs toys, for example), narrow in much as possible (red Armani jacket vs black Mephisto sandals), and search online for store locations.
Once you arrive, wear comfy shoes, and easy-to-shed clothing to minimize dressing room time.
If you shop on the first day of les soldes, you'll face the toughest competition from crowds trying for discounted Valentino rockstud sandals, Chanel jackets, and Gucci black slippers on sale at the famous luxury boutiques around the Golden Triangle near Champs Élysées. Guards allow only a few shoppers in at once, which means you risk wasting a lot of time standing in line only to discover not even a Dior Addict lipstick is left to buy when you finally get to enter.
For luxury and other well-known designer brands, determine if they have a boutique in the big Paris department stores (see Tip 7 for a list). Crowds there will be fierce and access to the luxury brands will also likely be controlled by guards, but if you are hoping to buy several items from different designers, you will save time if you can find everything in one place.
Buying in one store also consolidates your Paris purchases if you are a non-EU citizen and want to get a VAT tax refund - another automatic 12%-20% discount (more in Tip 9).
Luxury French brand Hermès offers discounted items for a much shorter time - ususally only 3 days - within the official sales period.
Instead of using their own showroom, Hermès holds their sale at the much larger Palais de Congrès, next to the Porte Maillot metro station, in order to accommodate the crowds of bargain hunters who come from all over the world for the event.
During the semi-annual Paris sales, prices drop in stages: a first markdown (usually about 30%), a second markdown (50-60%), and at some stores, a final or last markdown (70-80%, or sometimes even more).
Crowds can be fierce for the first day or two of les soldes, but then diminish (except around lunchtime and on weekends). Obviously the most coveted items may be gone after the first rush, but plenty of merchandise is left - although choices do diminish as prices drop.
So here's what you need to decide: Are you driven by the thrill of the hunt - that is, find a great buy at 80% off? Or do you feel fine about buying something you really, really want for only 30% off in order not to risk losing it to someone else? Can you tolerate the crush of crowds enough to line up early on the first day of the sales? Or are you ok with waiting for saner days, even if that means your first choices may be gone?
And remember . . . even during the final sale days, you'll still find plenty of bargains - and you'll get the biggest discounts.
If you are American, you'll find some of the biggest savings if you focus on French fashion labels that get marked up to stratospheric levels in the U.S. Even their regular prices in France seem like relative bargains, but on sale, they can be - well, if not a steal, MUCH more affordable.
So look for Sandro, Maje, Zadig et Voltaire, The Kooples, Claudie Pierlot, Les Petites, ba&sh, Iro, and Comptoir des Cotonniers for clothing; Mephisto and Arche for shoes.
All of these French brands have boutiques scattered across Paris - in particular, look for them in the Marais, Saint-Germain-des-Prés (6th arrondissement), Abbesses (18th), Place des Victoires, and Canal Saint-Martin.
Galeries Lafayette and other grands magazins (big department stores) offer many of these brands. You'll also find a few of them in Paris shopping complexes (see Tip 7 for a list).
Fun Paris Fashion Tours
These Paris fashion tours will help you scope out the Paris fashion scene and get some great shopping ideas:
Most people working in Paris department stores and boutiques speak at least some English . . . but most of the sales-related sign you'll see will be in French.
So to avoid confusion, here are the seven most important French words and phrases for you to recognize when you see them on signs:
- Soldes = Sales
- Démarque = Markdown
- Supplémentaires = Additional, as in "additional markdown"
- Jusqu'a = Up to, as in "up to 60% off" (in other words, some items may be marked down by a lesser amount and/or some may not be marked down at all
- Moins = Less, as in, "less 60%" (so, the regular price less 60% equals the sale price)
- Deuxième = Second (also written as 2ème - so deuxième démarque means second markdown)
- Dernier = Last, as in dernier démarque
Speaking of the dernier démarque . . . some stores do a third and last markdown, but others do only two. If the second is underway but you want to hold out for the lowest prices, how do you know if there will be a third? Just ask! Most stores are happy to tell you, and may even give you the date when it will happen.
In this case - and in all other interactions with the stores, you need to know one more French word, and this one you need to be able to say: Merci! (Thank you!)
Saying merci is easy - just say: "mare-see." And one more tip: smiling as you say merci improves your pronunciation.
Seriously - try it.
Here's the insider's secret about the sales: just like in the United States, many boutiques invite their "preferred" customers to private sales before the public sales begin. The lucky ones get to come in early and reserve their purchases with a post-dated check, credit card hold, or even full cash payment - then, after the initial frenzy of the public sale has died down, they pick up their items and complete the sale.
How do you get to be a preferred customer? Just like in the U.S. - purchase something and sign up for their email list. Although this works well if you're in Paris frequently, what if you're there for only a week or even just before the sales begin?
It's still not too late to try for a discount . . . just ask a few questions about when the sales begin, will the item you're considering be discounted, can you put it on hold until the sales begin? If the store is holding a private sale, they may offer you the same discount they give their preferred customers.
If you're going to leave Paris before the sales begin, mention that as well and ask if you can get the sale discount if you pay in cash. After all, their objective is to clear out the current stock to make way for the new, so as long as they can sell you the item at a great price without violating any regulations, it is in their self-interest to do so.
You lose nothing by trying - and when you win, your reward can be big!
With practically the whole city of Paris on sale, where should you shop, particularly if you are not targeting a particular designer or store?
Conserve your time for shopping by focusing on areas with high concentrations of tempting opportunities. Here are our favorites in several categories:
12 Top Areas for Shopping in Paris
- Golden Triangle - Hermès, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren, Gucci, Armani, and Valentino - these are just a few of the luxury designers with showrooms in this famed enclave along Avenue Georges V, Rue Francois 1er, and Avenue Montaigne in the 8th arr; closest metros: Georges V, Alma-Marceau, Franklin D Roosevelt
- Champs-Élysées - Between Place de la Concorde and Arc de Triomphe - An almost endless number of high-end global brands and smaller stores; explore the arcades along the way to find even more choices, or detour to the Golden Triangle for super-luxury
- Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré / Rue Saint-Honoré / Place Vendôme - A tantalizing mix of luxury and haute couture boutiques; expect to see lots of drool-worthy fine leather gloves, designer bags, jewelry
- Rue Saint-Dominique, between Avenue Bosquet and Blvd de la Tour-Maubourg, 7th arr, metro: La Tour-Maubourg - Nice selection of boutiques featuring mostly French designer labels, ranging from affordable to very expensive
- Marais, starting along Rue des Francs Bourgeois - Filled with trendy boutiques; many younger French designers
- Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood, 6th arr - Wonderful mix of well-known and emerging luxury labels and smaller boutiques
- Rue des Abbesses, 18th arr - Small boutiques, lesser-known but trendy designers
- Place des Victoires, between 1st and 2nd arr - Elegant luxury and high-end designer boutiques
- Canal Saint-Martin neighborhood in the 10th arr, metro: République - Hip clothing and concept boutiques, lots of rising young French designers, plus usually a few interesting pop-ups
- Grand Magasins, Madeleine, Blvd des Capucines, Blvd Haussmann, Avenue de l'Opéra - This large swath of high-end shopping includes parts of the 1st, 8th, and 9th arrondissements, and includes the large department stores, Au Printemps and Galeries Lafayette, plus hundreds of stores and boutiques featuring French and international brands
- Rue de Rivoli, between the Place de la Concorde and Louvre-Rivoli metro stations - Everything for souvenirs to global chains to high-end fashion and art
- Bercy Village - Former wine market, with 42 storehouses repurposed as boutiques, restaurants, and cinemas. Next to the Seine River in the 12th arr, nearest metros: Cour Saint Émilion, Bercy
Famous Paris Department Stores
- Galeries Lafayette, 40 Blvd Haussmann, 9th arrondissement; also in Montparnasse Tower, 22 rue de Départ, 15th arr
- Au Printemps (64 Blvd Haussmann, 9th arr; also in Carrousel du Louvre, 99 Rue de Rivoli, 1st arr; Place de la Nation, 21 Cours de Vincennes, metro: Place de la Nation, 20th arr)
- BHV (52 rue de Rivoli, 4th arr; BHV Men's Store, 36 rue de la Verrerie, 4th arr; metro for both stores: Hôtel de Ville)
- Bon Marché, 24 rue de Sèvres, 7th arr, metro: Sèvres
Paris Shopping Malls
- Beaugrenelle, 12 rue Linois, 15th arr, metro: Charles Michel
- Passy Plaza, 53 rue de Passy, 16th arr, metro: La Muette - also check out other boutiques along rue de Passy
- Forum des Halles, 101 rue Berger, 1st arr, metro: Les Halles
- Les Quatre Temps across from the Grand Arch in the La Défense business district (take Metro Line 1 - it's about 7-8 minutes from the Étoile station)
- Carrousel du Louvre ("Le Carrousel"), 99 rue de Rivoli, 1st arr, metro: Palais Royal Musée du Louvre - A bustling underground high-end shopping complex next to the Louvre with a terrific food court featuring international cuisine
No matter how much you may have your heart set on scoring a specific item during the Paris sales, fate may intervene - other shoppers may grab your prized goal first, the size may wrong, or you simply may not like it as much as you thought you might.
To avoid making perhaps imperfect decisions in the heat of the moment, make your Plan B in advance: decide what merchandise to try for if your first doesn't work out and where you will go to fine it.
Remember, plenty of wonderful bargains await you - you just need to find them!
If you are a non-EU resident, you may be eligible to claim a refund on the VAT (value added tax) included in the price tags of products sold in France. The VAT rate in France is currently 20% on most items - but you're not likely to get all that back due to processing fees.
There are, of course, rules: you must spend over 175€ in the same store in one day, you must acquire a valid Customs stamp (and before departing France, you need to take the items out of the country within 90 days of purchase, and you must have spent less than 180 days in France - plus a few more.
And - the process of getting the refund is not particularly easy. First, you need to get forms filled out in the store where you make your purchase on the day that you make the purchase; most large stores and multi-store chains will, but many small or individually owned boutiques will not.
If the store does provide VAT refund service, you will need to show your passport and possibly your dated plane ticket as proof of your visitor status. Some stores will accept a copy of your passport, while others will not. Obviously, carrying your passport around while you shop is not ideal due to the risk, however small, of losing it.
You also have to show the items you bought at the airport in order to get the Customs stamp, which means standing in a special (and often long and slow) line at the airport BEFORE you check your luggage. The recommendation is to allow two hours before boarding time to do this, but during peak tourist season, it can take even longer.
In some cases, you get your refund on the spot after you get the Customs stamp; in other cases, you have to send back the stamped refund form to the store in order to get the refund - it varies based on the processing company used by the store.
So how much of the 20% VAT will you get back in the end? Hard to say in advance - but about 12% is usually a reasonable expectation.
You'll need to decide if the hassle is worth the savings - but if you've spent a few thousand dollars at the sales, your answer is probably "yes!"
Buy several items during the Paris sales and if they are relatively expensive, your savings may easily cover the cost of your plane ticket to the City of Lights, and perhaps even some or all of your other expenses.
Of course, this depends not only on how much you spend during the sales, but also what you pay for your flight, hotel, meals, and other expenses.
However, if you have a cheap flight (especially easy to find if you're heading to the January sales), come just for a long shopping weekend, stay at an affordable 3-star hotel, and eat in bistros and brasseries rather than gourmet restaurants, the math may work - it's worth a try.
Because, as Audrey Hepburn said in Breakfast at Tiffany's, "Paris is always a good idea."
More Tips about What to Expect at the Sales
Although the French national government sets the start date for each sale, individual stores decide when to start the second markdown and whether/when to do a third markdown. This means that if you're waiting for prices to drop, you'll need to closely watch the stores you're most interested in. As a rule of thumb, the first markdown stage usually lasts 2-3 weeks.
If you want to know if a store is going to do a third markdown, just ask - most stores will tell you.
In addition, the government defines strict consumer protection rules for the sales - for example, items must have been offered at the regular price for at least a month before they go on sale (in other words, stores can't bring in cheap merchandise and immediately "discount" it), items must not be defective, and stores must abide by their posted return policy - although for most stores, that means Les Soldes sales are final - no returns, no refunds.
The best part? By law, the semi-annual soldes are the only times of the year when stores are allowed to sell their merchandise below cost.
In earlier times, the government prohibited sales at other times of the year. That's no longer the case - but many stores still don't put items on sale at other times of the year. Among those that do, you'll still find the biggest discounts and savings during the twice-yearly les soldes.