In the country that coined the famous laissez-faire idiom and invented the French paradox, the concept of shopping had to have a hard time. It's not because the French don't like buying or are fundamentally different than any other consumer population in the world, it's because they trust more than others their almighty State (and probably less their fellow citizens) that they chose to let the state faire (=do). In the end it's a matter of choice and the French love their paradoxes with a passion.
Let me describe the main principles that rule the sales seasons (les soldes) here in France, with the winter sales season opening today, the second Wednesday of this new year.
Yes, in France there are specific, well framed periods when a shop owner can sell her goods at a smaller price, so if you owned a boutique and you suddenly wanted to drop all prices because you somehow reckoned that it'll bring you more profits than your usual prices, you can't do it just like that, whenever you want it. It might be your shop and your whole investment, but not the whole universe is yours, you, greedy capitalist!!!...
Happily there is the French State who's watching you, so the State decided that it's better for the nation to have two fixed sales seasons of 5 weeks each, the summer one starting the third Wednesday of June, and the winter one starting the second Wednesday of January. But, attention! In its magnanimity, the State established two more variable weeks when it gives you the choice to sell off your surplus whenever you want, following (you got it!) some other strict rules: those special weeks have to end at most one month before the beginning of the fixed sales periods and they cannot be signaled with the word "sales" (soldes), thus getting the marketing department something to do. Also, the shop owner has to issue an official declaration at the Préfecture one month before the beginning of the sales variable weeks (yes: Every. Single. Time!) to inform Monsieur le Préfet and his staff when they should come make their best shopping spree.
Of course, like all the other rules present on the French soil, these ones also ask for some French-style exemptions, especially for businesses operating at the French borders where more liberal neighbors are having a lot more freedom to sell off their merchandise and who can steal precious market shares with the help of some bargain seeking, cheap ungrateful French traitors who would otherwise cross the border and buy better priced stuff from them.
What's funnier is that during the sales period it is not rare to see advertisings in French stores proudly bragging about the extraordinary 10-20% discount they offer their kind clients. But nope, there is no joke whatsoever; it's just that people in this country are not that used to buy for less, as they have traditionally acquired their goods from local artisans who made the products themselves in their small little workshop charmingly visible from the street. The French customer knows that the artisan's price is computed accurately right from the start, compensating for the craftsman's hard work and deep knowledge of their craft, and there's no way to reduce it more, it's the correct price. Alas, they are not yet completely used to the thought that some evil multinational companies can produce their merchandise in some low-cost God forsaken places and are selling it in France at x-fold prices.
They are getting used little by little, though, and you'll notice that, in the end, French people are as attracted as you and me by the magic word: SALES!!!