The first time that I walked into a Parisian boutique, I must admit that I was not sure what to expect. Although I suspect many of you readers have “been there, done that,” I’m collecting a few tips for those who might be first-timers. If you have more, please add them to the comments so that we can share our experiences.
With a few exceptions, my experiences have been quite good. Many of the staff are true professionals–they have training and insight, and the more that you share with them, the more they can help you find what you will like. It’s very common to be greeted by someone, whether a sales associate or door person, when you first arrive. Although I try to stumble through with my imperfect French, most larger stores are multi-lingual.
Most importantly, many boutiques have very little stock on their shelves and in the cases. This avoids an over-crowded appearance. So, if you do not interact with the staff, you will not be able to see all of the treasures that are in the secret panels and back rooms. You might (tragically) leave empty-handed because you did not realize that there may be many more choices than you imagined when you first walked in. Even the most up-to-date websites will not include each company’s full line, and different boutiques in the same city may have different stock. So, really, it’s best to find a sales person to help you.
Here are a few other suggestions:
- One at a time. In the U.S., it is very common for shoppers to share a display and for the sales associate to multi-task. I have found this much less common in Europe, where one sales person focuses on one customer at a time. The same with the merchandise–if someone is looking at a group of items, it is polite to wait until s/he is finished before diving in. Also, some stores are picky about whether you should test spray perfumes–for example, the Serge Lutens boutique asked me not to touch the bottles, although Guerlain seemed fine with it.
- If you do not know what you want, it is fine to say so. I usually don’t know, but I have some idea so I share those so we can get started.
- If you have a budget, share the number with the sales associate. I have only had good reactions when I have done this. There is no point looking at items worth thousands if you are looking for something far less.
- Sales happen. In France, the official sale dates are set by the government, usually in January and July. If you check online, you can find out more precisely. Sometimes planning helps, sometimes not. I was surprised one year to find a pile of Chanel scarves 50% off when I stumbled into a sale, the next time around I planned ahead but found that there were very few items marked down.
- Prices include tax. If you are looking at nail polish for 23 euros, you pay 23 euros. The price that is marked includes the VAT tax, so there is not any additional charge before you leave the store.
- Bring your passport. If your purchases add up to more than the store minimum, you can get paperwork for a VAT tax refund. The store will give you paperwork that you return at the airport. The store usually asks to see a passport first. If all goes well, a month or two after your departure, you’ll see the credit show up on your statement. It is around 20%, so it is worth doing for high-ticket items. Here’s a handy guide. The trick is not to use your item until after your departure, because the French authorities typically ask to inspect your item before accepting the paperwork.