How Covid-19 accelerated digital transformation in retail: lessons from Carrefour
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How Covid-19 accelerated digital transformation in retail: lessons from Carrefour

How Covid-19 accelerated digital transformation in retail: lessons from Carrefour

Philippe Peguilhan, country manager of Carrefour UAE at Majid Al Futtaim Retail discusses retail with Gulf Business in the age of Covid


What impact did COVID have on your business operations?
I think I speak for a lot of businesses when I say the virus has been a major exercise in agility. Few other periods in our history have required such quick evolution of our operations, guided of course by the shifting needs of our customers.

Specifically, we saw a big rise in demand for our online shopping services when compared to the same period in 2019. As a result, we’re replenishing stocks more frequently and increasing resources at our fulfilment centres to guarantee timely delivery to customers who choose to shop online.

Overall, the virus caused us to look more closely at the complete service we provide in the context of the sudden shift in behaviour. That self-reflection led to the launch of Click and Collect, a new service giving online shoppers added flexibility and convenience when they order online. Carrefour’s online customers now have the option to collect their orders from select locations, avoiding the need to shop in-store yet still giving them control of when they collect their goods. Having taken this concept a step further, we have also recently launched the Automated Click and Collect service at DIFC, which dispenses online grocery orders to customers through a dedicated robot.

Of course, the pandemic also required an evaluation of our in-store offering and how we could balance customer and employee safety with the need to maintain the exceptional experience customers expect from us. The safety of our employees and customers has always been Carrefour’s number one priority. As such, we put in place extra hygiene measures to safeguard the wellbeing of the large numbers still visiting our physical outlets while continuing to supply high-quality fresh food.

Greater investment in our infrastructure has also been required as a result of the virus. We recently launched a new fulfilment centre in Dubai’s Al Garhoud to optimise the delivery of online orders. We see this as a long-term investment, rather than a temporary move brought about by current circumstances. The new fulfilment centre has helped to accelerate the development of Majid Al Futtaim’s digital transformation strategy.

There’s a need for retailers to help shoppers adjust to the process of online shopping and delivery.

How did your existing digital infrastructure help cope with the resultant disruption?
We were blessed to already possess a strong digital backbone that we could build-out to meet the changing demands of our customers. The arrival of Click and Collect and the expansion of our Marketplace platform to include a greater variety of brands — both within and outside Majid Al Futtaim’s malls — are two examples of our evolution in this regard.

Click and Collect allows shoppers to fill their online grocery baskets, place an order, and select the store they wish to pick up their items from, alongside a timeslot that fits their schedule. Groceries will be carefully packaged and stored and refrigerated where necessary until customers pick up their orders from participating stores. This development paved the way for Automated Click and Collect, which allows customers even more freedom in accessing their ordered groceries. The robotised service can operate independently, fulfilling hundreds of orders per day and enabling pickups at any hour.

The expansion of our Marketplace platform, meanwhile, shows the value in an omnichannel offering. Here, customers can seamlessly move between our digital and physical touchpoints, discovering products before choosing where and when to purchase based on whatever they’re comfortable with.

What was so crucial about these platforms is that they provide customers with greater choice over how they shop, allowing them to choose the option they’re most comfortable with. It’s a reflection of how we insist on shaping our experience to what customers want, rather than what we want.

What gaps have you identified that need to be plugged to thrive in the “New Normal”?
There’s an obvious need for retailers to help shoppers adjust to the process of online shopping and delivery. Although this will already be familiar to many, we must not overlook those who prefer the more traditional approach. To best serve them, it’s really important to focus on the simplicity of the shopping experience when online, given how we all behave in the digital world. We’re less patient when online and won’t stand for anything less than an effortless online journey, so retailers must prioritise the user experience of their digital platforms.

Speed and agility have also risen in importance, in a general sense. Customers have had a sharp eye on how brands have reacted to the new circumstances and the role they’ve played in supporting their community. For food retailers — an essential service — this is especially true. For Carrefour, this presented a range of challenges that required agility, sensitivity, and precision in execution. Our efforts have largely been focused on maintaining supply by working with our local and international suppliers, as one of our pressing priorities was to ensure customer needs were fully met while safeguarding their wellbeing.
The new normal will inevitably be defined by those who embrace an omnichannel retailing strategy. As we continue to evolve our digital offerings — such as the recent launch of the Automated Click and Collect service — we are underlining our dedication to customer satisfaction as we continue to bring creative retail solutions to the table.

Retailers need to diversify the experiences and services we offer.

Are you planning to invest more in digital solutions based on this situation?
In our space, if businesses don’t prioritise their digital offering, they’ll fall behind the competition. The pandemic has made this even more so, given that it’s pushed more shoppers online. Building our digital offering has been a priority for Carrefour for a long time now and a key part of Majid Al Futtaim’s digital transformation strategy. The development of our new fulfillment centres and the Automated Click and Collect service marks another big step forward in delivering on our strategy, in addition to diversifying our omnichannel offering to meet our customers where they are.

With customers placing a premium on convenience, safety, and wellbeing, retailers need to diversify the experiences and services we offer. These developments are prime examples of how Majid Al Futtaim Retail is pioneering the experiences of the future.

What are the lessons learned from the pandemic?
One of the biggest lessons we’ve observed is that agility, from an operational and strategic perspective, is more important ever. The pandemic heightened the need for agility because of the way it caused a sudden shift in behaviour, but the point stands in a general context too.

A key ingredient in being agile is insight — understanding one’s customers and industry trends deeply and evolving the business to align with them. Carrefour has invested in analytical technology and data management to effectively meet its customers where they are. This means expanding our omnichannel presence to include a variety of ways for our customers to engage with us.

Our flexibility — particularly in tough situations such as the pandemic — allows us to remain accessible to the community. The inauguration of our latest dark store accomplishes this by increasing our online delivery capacity, while platforms like Click and Collect, Automated Click and Collect, and Marketplace provide our customers with the choice to shop in whatever way they’re most comfortable with.

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