The heart of French commerce, both domestic and foreign, is Paris. One-third of the country's commercial establishments are in the capital, and in many fields Parisian control is complete. The major provincial cities act as regional trade centers. The principal ports are Marseille, for trade with North Africa and with the Mediterranean and the Middle East; Bordeaux, for trade with West Africa and much of South America; and Le Havre, for trade with North America and northern Europe. Dunkerque and Rouen are important industrial ports.
The trend away from traditional small retailers is seen as a threat to tradition and, in some areas of the country, government assistance is offered to small retailers. Even so, larger retail outlets and hypermarkets are gaining ground. Mail order sales and specialty chain stores have also grown. In 1999, metropolitan France had about 30,000 wholesale enterprises. In 2000, there were 5,863 supermarkets. In 2002, there were about 107 department stores. Among the 50 largest commercial companies in France are the department stores Au Printemps and Galeries Lafayette. A value added tax of 19.6% applies to most goods and services.
Business hours are customarily on weekdays from 9 AM to noon and from 2 to 6 PM . Normal banking hours are 9 AM to 4 PM , Monday–Friday. Most banks are closed on Saturdays; to serve a particular city or larger district, one bank will usually open Saturday mornings from 9 to noon. Store hours are generally from 10 AM to 7 PM , Monday through Saturday. Most businesses close for three or four weeks in August.
Advertising in newspapers and magazines and by outdoor signs is widespread. A limited amount of advertising is permitted on radio and television. Trade fairs are held regularly in Paris and other large cities.