Retail gets automated and re-humanised all at once. Interview with Jérôme Gayet, co-founder of the Institut du Commerce Connecté ("Connected Commerce Institute").
What is the locomotive - or flagship country - driving retail today?
"This would undoubtedly be China, because retail there has been able to develop the potential of a new dimension for trade, like no other country: communicability and services. An eloquent example of this is Hema, a local supermarket chain which uses a high-performance mobile app to offer its users a unique digital and taste experience. You can do your food shopping - for fresh produce in particular - and have it delivered to your home or workplace in less than half an hour. Or else you can get a Hema chef to prepare your meal using selected ingredients! Thirdly, you can make your own way to the store to select your favourite products, or enjoy dishes prepared for you in a foodservice zone set up inside the supermarket. Chinese consumers are won over because they are the ones in control. Another example of this local dynamism is the "Auchan Box": mini-supermarkets measuring 20 m², set up in well-frequented locations, totally automated, where you serve yourself and pay for your purchases with your cellphone. In short, China is now the place where the new retail models are being invented!"
What about the United Arab Emirates, and the Middle East?
"The United Arab Emirates are a bit like the Middle East, with a very large population of expats - who have a lot of money to spend - and fairly limited local agriculture. This market structure clearly makes itself felt in the retail offering with, globally, a fairly underdeveloped organic business, a private-brands offering toward the premium end - but at attractive prices - and, of course, strong representation of gourmet products, to meet the expectations of a demanding clientele. In fact, the Middle East market is strongly influenced by what we might call "World Food", in the absence of firmly-established culinary traditions. Furthermore, the store chains that tend to prosper are those that make the best success of the international products mix. Recently, the main players in retail in the United Arab Emirates have rolled out more and more mid-sized supermarkets, to get closer to customers and play the proximity card: successfully it would seem. Another peculiar feature of this market is that connected commerce has not really taken off, particularly due to payment and delivery security issues. This may be another avenue for development..."
Where do the United States and Canada stand today?
"Both of these countries of course remain drivers in creating and developing new concepts. Let's not forget the success of Whole Foods! Let's not forget, either, the success of home delivery services. This is a very strong trend in these two countries. You only have to consider the success of Instacart, a service that originated in California (a State that is often the birthplace of new concepts for the whole of North America) and which allows you to get your food shopping delivered to your home by a "personal shopper" - who could be your own neighbour - with the products coming from any given local store. The risk for the big chains from this is losing the link with the customer! Still in North America, there is another booming trend: the connected refrigerator, which can automatically do your shopping for you once you run out of an essential product. These are all cases of what you might call 'effortless shopping'. More and more models of connected fridges are being produced, and it would be a mistake to consider this innovation as a mere gadget."
Does the French market reflect worldwide developments?
"Yes, since the development of e-commerce has been growing in recent years, with more and more online offerings, including via mobile phone. There is also an increasing number of automatic checkouts in supermarkets, proof that France is perfectly at ease with the new technologies. That said, France maintains its own stand-out features, with an organic retail sector that is now well-established, far more than in other countries of Europe, and which continues to make great strides, in particular with the development of a more "general public" offering alongside the specialised offering. Another trend that is on the increase in France is - once again - the local store. Store chains are reinvesting heavily in town centres, particularly since millennials are less prone than their elders to jump into the car to do their shopping. Globally, there is also a rising sense in France of an experiential trend, which concerns all store categories, and is about rediscovering the real meaning of commerce, in other words: taste, sharing and pleasure. In this context, the hypermarket model, which has been subject to so many attempts to reinvent or transform it, continues to pursue its metamorphosis."