Reinvigorating the Hypermarket… Carrefour has Recognized the Importance of the Shopping Experience.

Carrefour, the French company that is the largest hypermarket chain in the world, has seen the light. Recently they announced a new hypermarket concept that has investors excited. They are revamping stores, to be called Carrefour Planet, to make the shopping experience more user-friendly. They call it recreating “the destination store.” This is good news.

Carrefour is an enormous hypermarket chain that operates in Europe, Argentina, Brazil, China, Columbia and the Dominican Republic. The name literally means “crossroads” in French. While the company was founded in 1957 in suburban France near a crossroads, it opened it first “hypermarket” in 1963 bringing together a large supermarket and a department store under one roof. It was a pioneering concept at the time.

While you can find almost anything in a hypermarket, its size and scale almost make it too big to comprehend. And that’s the problem. Having a good selection of merchandise and competitive prices are now table stakes in the hypermarket/supermarket world. So differentiation becomes difficult. And in a world where we view everything as equal, it is hard to garner the attention of consumers to prefer your brand and be attracted to your store.

So what Carrefour has recently done is recognize that the consumer experience can be a valuable tool to gain preference and ultimately business. They announced a number of converging initiatives that together will enhance the shopping experience, such as revamped stores with nurseries, cooking classes, snacking areas, and fewer but bigger promotions. And this will be initially applied to 500 stores in key European markets; France, Spain, Belgium, Italy and Greece. No trivial investment… it is a true corporate commitment to reshape the Carrefour brand.

Think, too, how these innovations will excite employees. If properly managed, the in-store personnel could actually become part of the enhanced shopping experience. This might explain why Carrefour has predicted sales growth of 18% from 2010 to 2015 which is impressive by mass retail standards.

The best branders have been preaching that it is often the “experience” that helps a brand connect with its important audiences. Beyond the functional advantages of a product or service, it is the experiential connection that makes the difference, particularly in commoditized markets where many competitors offer similar things. Whether it is the shopping moment, a customer service interaction, the actual experience must be critically analyzed from the consumer’s standpoint to maximize the impact of a brand. A great example can be found in technology products. The way one is treated when they call customer support is often a brand defining moment. You can either be put on hold left in never-never land, deal with someone who doesn’t understand your culture, or you can be made to be a brand advocate by the way you are handled. More and more, companies are learning that the customer service is a brand-defining moment. Carrefour now understands that the in-store experience can be made better by simply listening to consumers and giving them the services they want.

This is much easier to do in a small chain or mom and pop environment. But at the hypermarket scale… kudos to Carrefour.

What would you like to see in a large supermarket format? What ideas, services and behaviors can you envision to make the shopping experience more enjoyable and earn your loyalty?