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Nicolas Safis | Group Innovation Director at Carrefour

Welcome to the Retail Rundown, your go-to weekly podcast where RETHINK Retail teams up with industry experts to discuss the news, trends, and big ideas that are redefining commerce.

Joining the show is guest Nicolas Safis. Nicolas is the Group Innovation Director at Carrefour, which is the eighth-largest retailer in the world by revenue, operating a massive fleet of hypermarkets, grocery and convenience stores in over 30 countries.

Join us as we discuss Carrefour’s recent and upcoming digital innovation initiatives, including the launch of an AiFi-partnered connected store in Paris and the retailer’s moves toward the metaverse.

Today’s episode with Carrefour is a great example of how AiFi helped bring retailer’s vision to life with the deployment of Carrefour’s first connected store in Paris. To learn how AiFi can help YOUR brand deploy a connected store, visit their website at www.aifi.com.

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Hosted by Julia Hare
Produced by Gabriella Bock
Edited by Trenton Waller

Post Transcript

Julia Hare: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Retail Rundown podcast. I’m your host Julia Hare, and joining us today is my guest Nicolas Safis. Nicolas is the Group Innovation Director at Carrefour, which is the eighth largest retailer in the world by revenue, operating a massive fleet of hypermarkets, grocery and convenience stores in over 30 countries. Prior to joining Carrefour, Nicolas was a consultant at McKinsey & Company, where he worked on numerous, strategic and technological initiatives. Thank you so much for joining today, Nicolas. Nicolas Safis: Thanks a lot for inviting me, and I’m very happy to have a slot for expressing all the innovation and digital at Carrefour. Julia Hare: Absolutely. And you have a lot on your shoulders. You’re the Group Innovation Director for just a huge company. So, what are some of the trends that you are seeing driving innovation this year? Nicolas Safis: Actually, there’s nothing very new at the basis, because the starting point of every kind of innovation is, and has always been, the customer, the customer needs. So we start innovation by just listening to customers and asking them what they want to do. And with all the technology and disruption that pop up over the last years, customer finally said, “I want to be served very quickly. I want to have a personalized experience. I want to have a wide range of offer, but always with the discount prices.” What is brand or quite new is the fact that they want as many as services as possible, but actually being responsible when it comes to eco-friendly, and green, and all that kind of topics. Julia Hare: So Nicolas, you mentioned they want the wide range of offerings, as many services as possible, they obviously want that at the best price, and so these are some things you said aren’t necessarily new, but ongoing. Are there some metrics when you’re thinking about what Carrefour needs and what the opportunities are, what are you looking for? Nicolas Safis: What we’re looking for is better serve our customers, of course, and the kind of existing customers, but what is very special at Carrefour is we have a wide range of customers. If I can make some cliche, we have the kind of typical customer, 40, 50 years old, that used to go to the market, and they are obsessed by the price, but we need to focus as well on the young and the urban customers. And when we tackle by segments, we observe that, for instance, in Paris, which is of course the biggest city in France, people are less upset by price, but actually more by the services. They want for instance, with the quick commerce, they want to be served and delivered in less than 15 minutes, which is a very different need of a customer that we serve in campaign or in the smallest cities. Julia Hare: So it sounds like in a huge city like Paris, people want things fast. It’s the city life. Nicolas Safis: Yeah. And it’s the case for eCommerce, of course with the pre-commerce and the partnership we have with the [inaudible 00:04:06]. But, actually, in the case, when people go within a store, in a convenience store, for instance, people don’t want to spend 50 minutes doing the queue before paying. They want to go very fast and even faster than the pre-commerce. But I think that we will talk later on Carrefour Flash. Julia Hare: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yep. So the queue is a very interesting topic because we’re seeing more and more different types of retailers across categories, not just convenience and grocery, who are offering different ways for the consumer to check out quickly, whether that’s on an iPad that the associate has or some other way. And I know part of the reason we’re having you on the show today is because you guys launched something very huge with autonomous stores. Can you tell us a little bit about that? Nicolas Safis: Yeah and let me just correct. It’s not autonomous store, it’s a connected store because at Carrefour we believe that a store needs to be human as well. And so we ask our customer what would be the perfect journey, the perfect shopping experience they can imagine. And they said several things, of course. But they said, “First, I want to enter fill in a store like I’ve done for the 60 pastures. So I don’t want any gates, I don’t want any mobile app or whatever to check in.” They said, “I want to shop normally.” And for the checkout, they said, “I don’t want to do queue during 10 or 15 minutes. I want an instant checkout.” Nicolas Safis: This is very interesting that they said, “At some time I want to know exactly what I will pay before paying.” They are very attached to the what we call realtime sketch. So they want to know, okay, Carrefour will bill $10 for beer and eggs, whatever item before going out to the store. And so we have designed the Carrefour Flash using these two key elements and to free within the store and get an instant ticket. Nicolas Safis: And what is very unique at Carrefour Flash, either all the technology and all the connection in term of pre-requirements, either under the responsibility of Carrefour. Which means that for a customer, you can leave the experience only with a credit card. You do not need to download any app. You do not need to have a kind of QR code or whatever. And this is very magic because when we launched the Carrefour Flash in the end of November, last year, we seen 70 years old or 80 young, old people leaving the experience. And we know that in that case of people need to download the app, basically, you are excluding a significant segment of population and, by the way, our customers. Julia Hare: Okay, wow. So you’re saying you launched November of last year, and already, this soon, you’re seeing people up to 80 years old using this? Nicolas Safis: Yeah, exactly. We have a wide range of customers. Basically the customers that they go to the convenience store, a traditional convenience store, and this is the magic and the beauty of the Carrefour Flash. You can be 80 years old people with a no smartphone, no application or you can be a 25 year old people and with a smartphone and iPhone or whatever device, and the experience is open to everyone, everyone. Julia Hare: Okay. Very good. And so, if you are using just the credit card, what does that look like as you’re checking out? Nicolas Safis: So you enter free within the store. When you enter within the store, they are with AiFi. We use the what we call sense of self-vision, which is a very dedicated technology design for and with Carrefour. And there is a mix between the sensors on each shelf and computer vision with the 60 cameras on ceiling. And the technology will build in real time, your baskets, your virtual baskets. When you want to check out, you just need to go in front of tablets, basically just Samsung tablets, and your basket will be displayed on the tablets in one second. And so when your front of the tablets, you have the baskets with the eggs, beer, and the papers. You just need to click on pay. You use your credit card, contactless, and you can get out. And the experience either… The stores is called Flash 10/10, because it’s 10 second to shop and 10 seconds to check out. Julia Hare: I like it, Flash 10/10. And do you get a physical receipt that is printed, or does it get sent to your phone? Nicolas Safis: You do not have a physical printing because it’s not strongly ask of our customers, but you have a QR code. And the… If you wanted the ticket, you can just flash your QR code and collect the ticket on your phone. Julia Hare: Okay. So there is an option, but it’s not so people don’t want extra pieces of paper to carry around? Nicolas Safis: Yeah. Julia Hare: Yeah. Very good. And then if you, it’s not… Is it just the credit card then? Or it comes up your basket within a second of walking up, you see everything in the basket, you can also do the app. Is that another option if you had the app? Nicolas Safis: Right now, there is only credit card. Julia Hare: Credit card. Okay. Nicolas Safis: But we are collecting the feedback of our customers. It is possible and the potential letting a few amounts or years, we will add a kind of hybird joiner with the app. Julia Hare: Okay, cool. Just so all, all of our listeners understand how it works, because it’s to visualize in our minds as we’re listening. And when you began looking at autonomous stores, was it really driven more from the customer. Is a customer telling you that they want this, or are you kind of showing the customer what’s possible? Nicolas Safis: No, we use the customer centric approach and it mean that we ask to the customer, without focusing or saying anything about technology, we ask to our customers what would be the perfect journey. And they said, “Okay, I want to enter free within a store. I want to know exactly what I pay before paying. I don’t want to do any queue anymore,” etc. We designed it on paper entirely. And then we have looked for the right partners to implement and to build the technology around the journey. In other terms, the starting point is the customers for Carrefour Flash and not the available technology, Julia Hare: I love that. And would you say… The stores you mentioned there are 60 cameras in the ceiling but most people, if you’re listening, think about when’s the last time you looked up when you were in a convenience store, grocery store, any store really. You don’t typically look at the ceiling. So does the experience feel the same as it used to? It’s just more convenient now and frictionless at the checkout process with the no queue, or is it, would you say, a little bit different? Nicolas Safis: Actually, there are 60 cameras, of course, on the setting. But people do not see the cameras because they’re black on the black setting. And when you entering the convenience store, you do not look up to watch the fading actually. So it’s quite a normal experience. We have a kind of customer that just enter within a store, shop like they used to do, and when they want to pay, they’re looking for the cash desk, and they understand, after shopping, that they’ve dedicated experience with the frictionless experience with the cash, the tablet, etc. And this is very funny because, people, they, “Oh, okay so there is no cash desk, right?” And this is why we seeing that, for instance, human is very important for that kind of store because people need to be supported, to be [inaudible 00:13:30], and to be advised on that brand new journey. Julia Hare: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Absolutely. And if you’re someone, you said, customers, they do want to see the price of the basket before they confirm checkout. If they want to put something back, they’re like, “No, that’s too much. I don’t want that,” they just put it back and the cameras will see that and update the basket amount. Nicolas Safis: Yeah, exactly. You can correct and adapt the basket at any time. So you can take a product, put it on the other shelf, and the basket will be corrected in real time. And even when you go in front of the tablet to check out, you have two option: if you want to do not pay one item, you can just putting back on the shelf, just behind you. On you have an associate, a Carrefour associate, just near the tablet that they can correct manually with a terminal and add or remove a basket. Or for instance, when you want to buy alcohol, you need to be 18 years old and you need to be checked in term of ID. So you cannot buy alcohol if an associate did not validate the fact that it checks your ID. Julia Hare: Sure. So there are still some store associates to assist with these things as they come up? Nicolas Safis: Yeah, exactly. And the associate is responsible for the overall journey and advising and supporting the customers, but they are also responsible for all the services that we want to implement in a Carrefour convenience store. And, for instance, Uber Eats or delivery, when we talk, connect, we have [inaudible 00:15:26], we have also to go, [inaudible 00:15:30], the right range of services that we want to instrument, which is the strategy of Carrefour for that kind of store. Julia Hare: So it sounds like the associates can focus on other newer services that people are demanding. Nicolas Safis: Yeah, exactly. On more value added tasks. Julia Hare: Very cool and, Nicolas, to wrap up our conversation, this is really amazing what you guys are doing; a lot of investment in technology. And I actually saw, the team saw, a very interesting announcement from you guys about some virtual land. Can you talk a little bit about that? Nicolas Safis: Yeah, of course. So on the virtual loan and Metaverse… Actually, this is a topic that we been study over the past few months and we have discussed with many actors: Meta and Sandbox and ROBLOX and Decentraland, etc. And we are, at Carrefour, we believe that Metaverse will be huge in the, not the coming weeks, let’s be realistic, but in the coming months or coming years, and we want to be at the place where our customers are. Today there are 2 million of users on Sandbox so we have decided to be there. And if in a few months there are a million of customer on [inaudible 00:16:57] or whatever they are the Metaverse, we will there as well. So the land we’ve acquired on Sandbox will be a kind of innovation land and test and learn. And we will innovate experiments and they build some very different experiences to better have that kind of user that they are on Sandbox. Julia Hare: And is this more for product exploration? If someone eventually is logging into the metaverse and they’re going to the car floor experience, is it showcasing different products or different services, or do you know what that looks like yet? Nicolas Safis: Actually, we are exploring different options. What we believe is that the Metaverse is not a copy paste of the real world. So we do not want to do a virtual icon market. And we are pretty sure of that, but we are working on several options, some of them related to NFTs, because we believe that NFTs is not only for luxury brands or gaming brands. And we are all as well exploring signage with Carrefour Voyage, which is a Carrefour travel or Carrefour Spectact, which the Carrefour events and the concept and the music views, and what I can say that we will try and test and learn several experiments. Julia Hare: That is very, very surprising and also exciting that you are investing so soon. Metaverse is something a lot of people are really interested in from consumers all the way to retail executives like yourself. So we are very keen at RETHINK Retail to hear how this unfolds and what that looks like, especially with the NFTs, which I still need to buy some NFTs and get those going because I don’t know enough about it yet. Nicolas Safis: And to be honest, this is about to be on the Metaverse, but the mindset right now at Carrefour, we want to be on every chance, we want to test, we want to innovate, and the executives of Carrefour are very clear. We need to test everything and if we fail, we fail, but we need to try. And Metaverse is the perfect demonstration of that kind of mindset that it’ll [inaudible 00:19:35]. The EXCOM member responsible for all the digital strategy you want to implement within that sense. Julia Hare: I like it. I like it a lot. And as you said, Nicolas, “Test everything. If you fail, at least you tried and you learn something from it at the end of the day.” Julia Hare: Nicolas, it was great having you on the show to talk everything about the connected store. It’s not just the autonomous store. You said connected store. That’s a big differentiator to make it more human. And then we talked a little bit about your investments with the Metaverse. So really cool stuff your guys are working on. It’s really moving quite fast and you said it’s a gamble, it’s still a bet, but you want to make sure that you guys are in all the playing fields. So it was amazing to hear from you and I hope to have you on again. Nicolas Safis: Thanks a lot for inviting me. What a very pleasure to talk about the transformation of Carrefour digital transformation and we will keep you posted on the progress in the Metaverse.