Carrefour Villiers-en-Bière, the 'connecte' hypermarket


How can we rethink the experience of retail customers? For many FoodTech startups, this is a means of standing out from the competition, in particular from established businesses invested in ‘brick and mortar’ retail who are slow to question their tried and tested models.
And yet, some multinationals are taking the plunge in a retail sector shaken up by recent innovations, for example by Amazon Go. Marine Bouriser of Vitagora tested for you the new flagship ‘connected’ hypermarket in Villiers-en-Bière near Paris opened by Carrefour! A farmers’ market ambiance, a cozy environment enlivened with LED screens… When a multinational shakes up its vision of the retail experience, what are the results?

Rewriting tradition retail

“After a year of revolation, Carrefour has unveiled its connected hypermarket in Villiers-en-Bière”, says the French magazine LSA. At a time when studies are showing that consumers, even younger generations, are seeking a store-based retail solution, but one tempered with the ultra-convenience of digital, France’s flagship retail brand is seeking to bring the two together in a reworked customer experience.
Renewing the retail experience is indeed a key strategy of Carrefour in the face of the burgeoning competition of Amazon Go. This new foothold of Amazon in brick and mortar retail is challenging the status quo: a checkout-free zone, no queues to navigate… a purchasing experience based on digital technologies and data, and also playing on the attraction of  freindliness of small-scale retailers. 
Back to Carrefour: if its 24,000m² surface area and 170 million euro annual turnover is, at first glance, as far as you can get from ‘smll-scale’, the renovated Carrefour hypermarket to the south of Paris – France’s largest – is all the same banking on creating an overall atmosphere of friendliness and human connection… 

Think local…

In fact, Marine Boursier, Vitagora’s project engineer based in our Melun office, has become a devotee of this store. Notwithstanding her experienced eye for food innovation with a professional interest in FoodTech, Marine fits squarely in the category of Millennials. Approaching the age of 30, and a fan of home-cooking, she claims to be guided by a search for ease-of-use, time-saving solutions, but also the all important element of eating pleasure. A search carried out, naturally, her smartphone gripped in one hand. “Before the renovation, I frequented local retailers or click-and-collect stores to save time. The Carrefour hypermarket is immense, over 24,000 m², but it has become my go-to for my grocery shopping.”
What speaks the most to her consumer expectations is the friendly atmosphere, clearly modeled on small-scale businesses.
“For each group of fresh foods – Italian, bakery, cheesemonger, and so on – there is a demonstration booth, with tastings, product presentations, and even interactive workshops. You would think you are in a farmers’ market. Human contact is at the heart of the experience."
In addition, there is an added dimension of transparency: “In the pastry zone, employees are assembling products in front of customers. At the bakery, there are demonstration ovens, to show the bread is indeed baked on the premices (a sticky point for the French). This was of course already the case before the renovations, but creating a window like this is very reassuring for shoppers and is a huge help in humanising this enormous space.”
Carrefour - boulangerie


From a chore to a leisure activity

Another element that keeps Marine (and certainly others) coming back is “the fact that this shopping experience no longer feels like a chore. Going grocery shopping has become a leisure activity.”
Marine also comments on the choice of materials, and colours, contributing to the homely feel. And also an overall attention to how each department has the feel of a specialist shop. A bookshop, a coffee house, a wine merchant, and so on.
The result: “I’m spending more”, admits Marine.
“But this has its flipside.” she adds: “It takes time to get around. For one, this hypermarket is huge, and the demonstrations take up time. A truly hurried shopper would not have the same positive experience.” 

on the digital side, room for improvement

And in terms of FoodTech? For a so-called flagship ‘connected’ hypermarket, Marine remains somewhat skeptical of the exploitation of digital technologies. “I can’t really see the connected side. There is of course free WiFi and digital displays, but nothing that strikes me as particularly innovative. As someone actively interested in the topic of FoodTech, I was expecting more digital applications: client accounts, geo-localisation… We already have technology to allow, for example, targeted advertising, personalised screen displays, individual messaging. For the moment, I haven’t seen any of this.”
Perhaps the results of the StoreConnect (article in French) R&D project launched with Vitagora’s help will bring an added digital dimension to connected retail?
“Do we need to wait for technologies to catch up with identified needs? Perhaps. But for me, the real innovation of this hypermarket is in terms of optimising the retail experience. You feel at home, despite the size. It’s a moment of fun, entertainment even. By innovating in these areas, Carrefour has managing to seduce me away from the ultra-convenience of drive-throughs and back into a store. In that respect, it is a real success.”

By Clémence Bouvel

Clémence Bouvel

Clémence is Vitagora’s friendly scribe and community manager. She scours the web for the latest trend news that she transcribes on Vitagora’s blog and in market intelligence bulletins for its members.