Les soldes d’hiver and the French art of traffic generation
The French tradition of holding mega sales throughout January and February — les soldes d’hiver — is a masterclass in traffic generation. The event jazzes up what can often be the gloomiest time of the year, and can give retailers a commercial boost when it’s needed most. Our advice for maximising sales and good sentiment during ‘les soldes’ is to know exactly when the bargain-hunting peaks are coming, and to prepare accordingly.
In 2018, les soldes run from 10th January to 20th February across France, although dates vary slightly in different parts of the country. Big price reductions are being offered by retailers including Carrefour, Gap, Mango, Gucci, Bon Marché and Lacoste — all of which promote eye-catching campaigns, both online and in store.
According to Le Parisien the mammoth six-week sale covers fashion, sportswear, accessories, high tech, appliances, garden, DIY and home furnishings. And the savings during this time are considerable — usually 30-50% at the start, and as high as 70% as the sale period goes on.
Vive la difference!
While most European countries see their winter season traffic peak in late December, the busiest seasonal shopping day in France often comes with the start of les soldes, which tends to coincide with the national Epiphany celebration. Of course, Christmas shopping in France is vital, but currently the winter sales drive even more interest, in terms of traffic.
ShopperTrak data shows that Friday 9th January took the crown for France’s busiest festive season shopping day in 2016/2017, and Friday 10th January was the number one festive period shopping day in 2015/2016.
We predict equally high levels of shopper traffic during the launch of the winter sales this year. Participating stores aim to keep shoppers interested with bargains and retail drama right through to 20th February.
Bonanza of bargain hunting
Les soldes d’hiver period is special in France because it is the only time of the year that French shops are legally allowed to sell merchandise at a loss. Doing so really draws crowds and generates spend. The vast majority — 75.2% of the French — participated in the winter sales in 2017 which demonstrates the importance of this event for the retail community. This year, the average budget, according to the Ifop institute, is € 197 per household.
Shoppers love the sheer drama of waiting for the best prices on highly desirable products. France’s main department stores — such as, Galeries Lafayette, Printemps, and Le Bon Marché — are famed for their spectacular reductions on top brands. As stores are not allowed to bring in merchandise especially for sales, prices are reduced on what’s in the shop. This is great news for shoppers seeking designer dresses or shoes at high street prices, as even the major fashion labels such as Chanel, Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, drop their prices.
For shoppers, it’s also a chance to enjoy stores when personal finances have been severely hit by the excesses of Christmas. For retailers, the primary aim of les soldes is to clear old stock and make way for spring/summer ranges.
There are additional benefits: inclement winter weather ceases to be a barrier to shopping when the event is in full swing. Goodwill is generated when the product, price and service is good, and the experience is pleasant.
Spring ranges can get in on the act too, with new arrivals — at full price — displayed prominently. This gives shoppers an enticing sneak preview of potential new outfits and accessories. Meanwhile, the smartest retailers take the opportunity to sign customers up for loyalty schemes, and instigate ongoing marketing communications that could bring about commercial wins in the year ahead.
Les soldes are changing
Retailers operating in France currently enjoy a series of winter trading peaks – Christmas, Epiphany, and les soldes. This triple-whammy of peaks across December and January keeps stores buzzing, and turnover churning throughout winter. But there is a growing sense in the French business community that consumers might be struggling to maintain interest for quite so long.
While it lasts six weeks now, the period of sales is likely be cut back by two weeks in 2019, according to Secretary of State for the Economy, Delphine Gény-Stephann, following a consultation that began last summer. She told Le Parisien: “The [sales] professionals have expressed the wish to reduce the duration of the summer and winter sales in order to focus attention, create more urgency and envy, because in the perception of the consumer, a period of more than a month is too long and interest is diluted.”
For store-based retailers who are increasingly competing with online price reductions during these sale periods, this could be good news. A more condensed, month-long focus on catering for bargain-hunters would mean faster clearance of old stock, and a more timely return to full-priced selling. And with smart use of store data — such as, dwell time, traffic flow, and shopper behaviour benchmarking — the operations around sales can be tightened and streamlined, giving consumers a far superior experience of bargain-hunting.