Somewhere in America, a Democrat will read of this and drool.
In America, merchants hold sales whenever they like. In parts of Europe, it’s the government that makes the rules.Twice a year, in January and June or July, French law allows retailers to post the word “sale” in their windows and significantly cut prices.
The government sets the dates, and for four to six weeks, there is mayhem. The usual French decorum is dropped as shoppers, who on an ordinary day wouldn’t dream of eating lunch or drinking a cup of coffee on the streets the way Americans do, gobble baguette sandwiches as they race from shop to shop.
Which sort of explains why Bon Marche was giving out treats at 8:30 the first morning.
“People get so worked up anticipating the low prices,” confided a worker as she gingerly handed cookies to the incoming herd. “The last thing we want is for them also to be hungry.”
Not only are out-of-season sales banned in countries including Belgium, Italy, Spain, Greece and France, but a jungle of regulations also keeps European retailers in lock step: In most countries, they can’t sell below cost; in others they can’t advertise reduced prices in advance of sales or discount items until they have been on shelves more than a month.
A recent study in France explained that these bans were conceived to preserve “le jeu loyal de la concurrence,” or “the loyal game of competition.” Almost like a duel at dawn, fair competition isn’t considered possible without regulation to set a time and place for it.
This may seem ludicrous in the competitive 21st century, but these laws are aimed at preventing big stores from driving smaller ones out of business. Some 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.
In France, they have long been intended as an orderly orchestration by the state to allow merchants to clear out old stock and bring in new collections.
But such restrictions help explain why in France and in the euro zone, consumer spending is expected to account for about 56% of the gross national product in 2007, compared to 70.3% in the U.S., according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.