Shopping

Though what we are about to say may come as a surprise, or even shock, to our French colleagues and friends, France is not a consumer society in the same sense as, say, the United States or Switzerland. This opinion is based on essentially two things: first, the relatively limited choice one has in purchasing various consumer goods, and second the near-absence of decent customer service. Indeed, there is not even a French word for customer service; what is usually used is SAV (for Service après Vente, or "after sale service". As the name implies, this service presupposes that one has already become a customer (and usually simply means that there is some facility to deal with already purchased products that have become defective in some way). Do not count on much assistance or service if you are not yet a customer! For example, sales staff in a store that doesn't carry an item you are looking for are not likely to go out of their way to suggest where you might find what you are trying to buy. After all, any such effort would benefit another store, maybe even a competitor (this point needs to be taken with a grain of salt; our experiences in this regard have varied considerably in different areas of France. It seems that the South is somewhat less consumer-friendly than the North. Also, there is no doubt that the situation has improved in recent years).

As far as limited choice is concerned, we find that you can buy almost anything you want, but that there is very little choice regarding make and model. For example, some time ago we wanted to buy a table-top fan. We found that certain stores had literally dozens of fans in stock (it was the season...), but all of them were one of three models. If you didn't like any of the three... tough! Many items are available in a much wider selection at certain times. For example, school supplies (notebooks, binders, pencil sets, rulers, and so forth) are widely available before the rentrée (the beginning of the school year in September), but the selection shrinks considerably soon after that. The rule is simple: if you see something you really like, buy it. It may not be available again for a long time if you miss your opportunity. There is one notable exception: food. The variety and quality is simply incredible.

1. Types of shops

The typical French household gets its weekly shopping done at a hypermarché (hypermarket) or supermarché (supermarket). Hypermarkets are huge out-of-town stores where one can find everything one needs in terms of practical every-day living: food, household items, clothes, books, gardening equipment, major and small appliances, televisions, etc. In this area, the hypermarkets are Carrefour (Antibes and Nice), Auchan (Nice), and Géant Casino (Villeneuve-Loubet and Mandelieu).

The main supermarkets in the area are Intermarché, Leclerc, Casino, Super-U, and Champion. These stores are smaller than the hypermarchés and stock mainly food and certain household items. For addresses, look up "Supermarchés et Hypermarchés" in the Yellow Pages.

In the town centers, the food stores are either small branches (called "supérettes") of the supermarket chains or independent grocers. For addresses, check the Yellow Pages for "Alimentation générale (détail)". Local shopping is a taste of real French life and provides an opportunity to test one's language skills. Common local shops include

The best known department stores in the area are

There are only two shopping malls in the area. The largest is Cap 3000 (Saint Laurent du Var, next to Nice airport). It features a Galeries Lafayette, a very large (and good) food court, and some 140 shops. There is a tremendous car park, though on busy days it tends to be too small. The smaller one is Nice Etoile on the avenue Jean Médecin in Nice. It has mostly chain stores, such as Habitat, FNAC, C&A, and so on.

For purchasing clothing, household goods, and leisure products, mail order (Vente par Correspondance, or VPC for short) can be a good alternative. The main mail order companies in France are

Catalogs for La Redoute, 3 Suisses, and Quelle may be purchased at book stores. Usually, the price of the catalog is deducted from your first order. Some of these mail order companies also have retail outlets. For example, you can find La Redoute, Yves Rocher, and France Loisirs in many shopping areas.

2. Conventions

General retail stores are usually open from 9 AM to noon and from 2 PM to 7 PM. Stores are usually closed on Sundays and on holidays. Many observe an annual closing period. Food stores have longer opening hours; they tend to stay open all day and close later in the evening. The larger shops, particularly those in shopping malls, as well as hypermarkets and department stores are usually open all day from around 9 o'clock in the morning to 8 o'clock at night. They are closed on Sundays except during the pre-Christmas season.

Payment is by cash, check, or credit/debit card, depending on the amount. Paying by carte bleue (VISA debit card) is very common, even in supermarkets. Not all retailers accept credit or debit cards, however, and in some places there is a minimum purchase required. As a general rule, payments of less than 15 euros are made in cash. Foreign credit and debit cards are accepted in most supermarkets and hypermarkets, though you may be asked for identification (passport, carte de séjour, driver's license...) For payment by check, identification is always required. Several stores offer their own payment cards which give your certain advantages, such as extended credit terms for larger purchases.

Customers are protected against defective goods. If you realize that the item you have purchased is defective, you can ask for an exchange (though you will need the receipt). If a replacement is not available, you may be given a store credit in the amount of the returned item. Cash refunds are less common, though some shops and hypermarkets (such as Carrefour and Géant Casino) have a no-questions-asked cash refund policy (provided you do have the receipt). Most electrical goods carry a one year warranty.

Sales traditionally take place in January and July for a maximum period of six weeks The date of the sale is determined by the town councils and published in Nice Matin. This is the only time shops have the right to sell merchandise at a loss. Shops will advertise sales by placing Soldes signs into their windows. However, this does not mean that all items inside are on sale. Items that are on sale will have both the original and the sale price marked on the ticket. Outside of the Soldes (Sales), stores can have promotions. These are usually decided by the shop keepers and typically concern specific products. Often, they take the form of special deals such as "buy one, get one free". If a shop is going out of business, there will be a sign that reads Liquidation; prices are often sharply reduced in such cases.

3. English Books

Of course, you can buy English paperbacks at Nice airport, but the selection is what one would expect from an airport newsstand: anything but overwhelming. Fortunately, there are a few nice English book stores in the area. All offer very good service and will order anything they do not happen to have in stock.

Antibes Books
24, rue Auberon
06600 Antibes
Phone: 04 93 34 74 11
Cat's Whiskers
26, rue Lamartine
06000 Nice
Phone: 04 93 80 02 66
   
Cannes English Bookshop
11, rue Bivouac Napoléon
06400 Cannes
Phone: 04 93 99 40 08
English Reading Centre
12, rue Alexis Julien
06560 Valbonne
Phone: 04 93 21 21 42

If all else fails, you can always order books from Amazon in the United States or the United Kingdom. You may also want to check out Beaumont Books in Normandy, but all these Internet book stores should really be a last resort. The stores listed above truly do deserve your patronage!

4. Consumer rights

The law protects consumers against unscrupulous retailers and companies selling goods and services. It is particularly strong in the area of mail order and purchases made from tele-salespeople and canvassers. For example:

Consumers don't just have rights; they have obligations as well. For instance, buying counterfeit goods is illegal. In this area, you are likely to be offered illegal copies of Cartier watches, Louis Vuitton bags, and other luxury articles by certain street vendors. Be aware that if you are caught purchasing such items, or if such items are found in your possession during a routine police or customs check, you risk a very heavy fine and even possible imprisonment.

If you would like to know more about commercial legislation, if you have a consumer issue that you cannot resolve directly with the vendor, or if you have a complaint about misleading promotional materials from a shop, there are a number of organizations that can help you:

We don't mean to imply that one needs all this consumer protection in France. Magazines like the ones mentioned above are sometimes useful in making purchasing decisions, and this is the main reason we mention them. In all the time we have have lived here, we have not had to resort to anything more drastic than a product exchange.




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