Shopping In Paris Is Special…

flower seller on rue Cler in Paris

One of the things about Paris that always enchants is the attention to detail. This is true when it comes to shops and markets too; one gets a sense that the proprietors take great pride in their business and go out of their way to create a personal and positive experience. The window displays, the arrangement of the merchandise, even how the shops often smell lovely (thanks to scented candles or diffusers)…it’s meant to be a pleasing sensory experience, often very different from shopping at home.

When you step into a shop in Paris, the staff will greet you, “bonjour Madame/Monsieur” and you are expected to greet them back. In most places, you don’t just rush in and grab something off the rack. You engage, you let them assist you and make suggestions. That sense of connection is an important part of the process. (There are exceptions to this, of course: discount chains and larger stores come to mind, but even so the level of interaction is higher than what you’d experience in comparable venues here in the US.)

We visit Paris usually no more than once per year (this year being the exception). We usually stop at the Fragonard shop on Boulevard St. Germain to look for some small gifts to bring home. Even with our infrequent visits, there are a couple of employees there who remember us from year to year. It’s extraordinary.

And stores in Paris seemed to be going out of their way for the holidays, from decorations to these cute and charming doormen at Le Bon Marché…

doormen at Le Bon Marché Paris

to the personalized engraving at L’Artisan Parfumeur on bottles of perfume and candles.

paris shopping at L'Artisan Parfumeur

custom engraving my bottle of perfume

When the Sales Associate offered free engraving on the bottle of perfume I purchased (Premier Figuier Extrème), my answer was “bien sûr, merci!!”

hand-engraved perfume bottle

The finished result. She did the entire thing freehand!

Starting with something nice, and making it unique and personal…that’s really a special treasure.

I want to tell you about something my friend Sharon Santoni of My French Country Home is putting together that’s also personal, unique and special. It’s called My Stylish French Box.

My Stylish French Box, hand selected products for the home

It’s a keepsake box of French items for the home, each selected by Sharon. I met Sharon for lunch in Paris and was able to see the little treasures she’s selected for the first box, and let me tell you, it’s an extraordinary collection of truly unique and delightful things! I was blown away. The boxes (4 per year) are available by subscription (details HERE) and the first box will be shipped in February. If you’d be interested in giving a subscription as a gift for the holidays, Sharon will provide a printable voucher that can be given to the recipient. (And then they’ll have something nice to look forward to!) I’d suggest if you’re interested not to wait too long, as there are a limited number of boxes and I have a feeling they’ll go fast.

What’s been your favorite shopping experience?

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  1. Yesterday I went into a venerable fabric shop in the center of Carcassonne. Gorgeous old herringbone parquet floors. High ceilings. Beautiful everything everywhere. They sell bed and bath linens and other home accessories as well. I started looking at the vast samples of fabrics and soon a sales assistant was there to help. I showed a few photos of the furniture I want to reupholster, and she said that I could take an appointment with the owner of the store to come to our place in person to help choose the fabrics. How cool is that? House calls!

  2. So true! In the 6th, I feel at home because after doing daily shopping for years during our visits, I’ve gotten to be a familiar face with a few of the shopkeepers. And it’s always fun to speak in my broken French with a smile.
    But–my all-time favorite shopping experience was two summers ago. Daniele treated me to a little spree at the Guerlain boutique on the Champ Elysees. When we entered, the gentlemen at the door greeted Madame DeLorme and a sales assistant came right over to us. Daniele introduced me as her niece from America. The assistant told me that I was a very lucky woman to have Daniele as an aunt because she was beloved by everyone.
    Anyway, we were escorted upstairs and Daniele told me to get whatever I wanted. I came back with my “La Petite Robe Noire” perfume and cosmetics. I literally felt like a princess because I was treated like the royalty I delusionally believe that I am! It is one of my special memories of Daniele’s generosity!

  3. Oh..and I forgot to add. The next day, Daniele realized she needed more eyeliner and asked me to run over to the boutique to pick some up for her (it’s right down the street from where her office was). When I entered–everyone remembered me so I had double the fun! You are right Susan–the sales staff does have a great memory!!

  4. Oh I so agree. The interaction with the shop owners/sales is what makes all the difference. Here, it would seem to be an intrusion, but there it is so natural and sort of connects one to the entire culture. When we rented in Provence last September I was even more aware of this personal connection and ended up having long conversations with the owner of the boulangerie we frequented at least once a day. I considered doing an interview for my blog, but thought better of it.And, of course, such wonderful opportunities to practice our French! But yes, the difference is in the details….

  5. We were on a tour in Paris and our charming guide had the most beautiful pleated lightweight topper. She took it off in the museum and crumpled it in her bag. I thought, “Oh my , I HAVE to ask where she got this!” and she was kind enough to give me the street in Paris it was on, though she could not recall the name.
    On our free day, my husband and I attempted to find it and after a half hour scouring the street, I was ready to give up and wandered into a shop to see if they could help. As luck would have it, this was THE shop! The back of the store had a rack of similar jackets, trousers and tops. The sales clerk and store owner spoke a little english and were happy to hear I admired their wares enough to track them down. They both were so helpful assisting me, pulling my sizes and coordinating my outfits.
    I came away with a pink jacket like my tour guide, and a navy topper, a pair of pants and not one but two dresses, one of which I wore on our visit to my friend’s house near Versailles. So my photos from that day of touring show me happily clad in my new dress while touring the lesser known areas of Versailles.

  6. I agree that the service in Paris is exceptional, but after working in a small independent retail establishment, I learned that such an experience is perfectly possible here if you patronize the non-chain stores in your community, and shop as if you were in Paris: greet the person behind the counter, take advantage of their knowledge and ask questions, and just be nice. I became a much better customer after working the other side of the counter. Too many Americans, lulled into self-sufficiency by the large chains, walk into the store and say “just looking” when offered help, and complain when the staff offers help, believing that they are suspected of shop lifting (it surprised me how often people took the time to write letters about this). There are so many reasons to shop small and shop local, but better service is one of the big ones (and if your experience is otherwise, just don’t return)

    1. Ellen, I’ve sometimes found this to be the case in smaller shops, though sometimes they’re staffed by young people who are probably making minimum wage and aren’t that interested in much beyond chatting amongst themselves. We have so few independent boutiques left nearby (in fact, I can’t think of any within 5 miles), which is really a shame.

      1. I agree that in North America responsive service is usually directly correlated to the age of the salesperson; anyone below early twenties seems, sorry to say, more engaged with work colleagues or friends who stop by.

  7. It might sound daft, but Apple still gives me a warm feeling when I shop in their store. My little shop in Haarlem where I get such good assistance in choosing tights. Two clothes shops in Haarlem, one low end and one high end (Bellamy Gallery and The Lab) are fab in their customer experience too.

    1. You know, I have the same experience with Apple. They always seem happy to see you, and never act like your questions are stupid (and I know for sure many of mine are!).

  8. I brought home perfume from L’Artisan too and I love it. It’s wonderful to start every day with a whiff of Paris!

  9. I loved the markets and shops in Paris and now I am drawn to our local shops that go the extra mile to make their merchandise look beautiful…thank you for sharing these lovely images.
    I so want to try Sharon’s gift boxes but she is not shipping to Canada just yet….when she does I will sign up pronto as I would adore receiving some curated and elegant French products arrive at my door!

  10. I love shopping in Paris and have always found the sales staff to be warm and helpful, provided you greet them with “Bonjour”. All stores throughout the country gift wrap purchases in the most artistic way. To me, that symbolizes the French savoir-faire, attention to details.

  11. The last time I was in Paris, the airline misplaced my luggage for four days, so I had to shop. I needed basic things, not pretty gifts, so I loaded up on undies and such at Monoprix on Boul’Mich near my hotel. I also found some inexpensive pants and tops at H & M. It was an ordeal, that four-day stretch, wondering if I would ever see my luggage again. However, I did have a different shopping experience from what I usually do in Paris, and I’m still wearing the things I bought then.

  12. So much of the difference in shopping in Paris is knowing that the staff in many Paris stores are working in retail as their career, and not just as some appallingly low-paying job that only lets them work less than 32 hours per week, and where they might be sent home the second the store quiets down. I worked retail back in the “40 hours a week” era, and our staff was magnificent. When I worked more recently, the the “on-call” and “you can leave now” era, it’s an entirely different bucket of fish. That’s why it’s worth looking for good stores with good staff – you’re actually also supporting good labor practices at the same time!

    I love the perfume bottle, by the way. How gorgeous… swoon….


  13. Attention to detail like this is a familiar French thing (from my own experiences growing up with my family and relatives). It is done with care and thoughtfulness, too. As far back as I can remember all greetings were warm, strangers included, as if welcoming them to a family dinner. We used to shop in a predominantly French-speaking community and when I walked in with my mother, just by the way she was greeted by various sales people and speaking French with them, I thought they were all our relatives. 🙂 How fun that you had this shopping experience. The bottle detail is amazing. What a treat!

    As for shopping, I love the small shops, but I am finding that for women’s clothing, most of them carry all the same lines now, EF, Johnny Was, Habitat, Karen Kane, Neon Buddha, etc. I discovered this while shopping in some back east when I visited, then downtown here in my little CA town, where they carried the same things. I wonder how/why this happened. It’s almost like turning boutiques into mini mall-stores. I find more unique things at TJ Maxx and Marshall’s these days, although the quality is hit or miss. I realize the stores cater to what people are buying and the popular lines. I just remember shopping for that original item and not having so much trouble finding it, though if I were shopping in Paris it would be a whole new feast for the senses!

  14. Even in Quebec when you enter a small store or boutique you are greeted! …it is about the process not the destination!! I agree though that anywhere you shop if one enters with a smile and engage with staff you will find remarkable service. I have a friend who grew up in Paris who, when he enters a shop ALWAYS engages in some small pleasantries with staff..he says it puts every one in the right mood! For him it doesn’t matter if the store has what he needs he always enters with a Bonjour or Salut! and exits with Merci, bonne journée! After all this ‘politesse’ he will sometimes step out of the establishment and quietly exclaim en anglais (for my benefit) “what a bitch she was!!!!” Haha…the French, so diplomatic!!

  15. Your perfume bottle is beautiful! I have only been to Paris once, but my shopping experience was very nice. Such friendly service! The stores are all so artfully displayed too. I wish I would have bought more when I was there!

  16. Lovely post, Susan. You had me at the intro bit. Candles! I laughed.
    I was in Brittany around the New Year a few years ago. We were walking around a little medieval town. Few shops were open. I found an open butcher’s shop and leaned over the counter to ask if they knew of any restaurants that would be open for dinner. I returned to the street to report back to my party. They all stared at me. In awe, I thought, that my (limited) command of the French language had actually yielded something useful.
    My hubby broke the silence with “You’re on fire”. Not in relation to said smokin’ hot French skills sadly, for I looked down to their point of sight and saw my anorak-style jacket was aflame. I appeared to have spontaneously combusted. I put out my own flames, they were stunned frozen. I looked into the shop and saw that pedestal candles had been placed on the public side below the counter. Candles in a butcher’s? At waist height? Not what I had expected.
    So you are so right in your observation. The French decorate with candles … even in places you wouldn’t expect!
    It was freezing cold so I had to wear that one jacket I had with me, now with a melted front panel, for the rest of the trip.
    And that is my festively French contribution, Susan!