Carrefour goes digital in China – Groceries 2.0

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In April, French retailer Carrefour created a digital platform to meet local consumers’ expectations.

Carrefour has a long history in China, being the first foreign supermarket chain to set up in 1995, contributing to a major cultural change in terms of how Chinese consumers approached  grocery shopping – a new form of shopping in China at the time.

Alongside presenting their line of imported and local products in aisles, the French brand also introduced the trolley and new forms of queueing at the cashier to the local shoppers, enthusiastic for a foreign supermarket experience.

They brought a shopping experience focussed on Chinese families, with their now familiar Chinese name  “Jia Le Fu” (家乐福) – which literally translated means “family, joy, happiness”.

But more recently, Carrefour has struggled to maintain momentum in China

Carrefour’s seemingly unstoppable growth of its sales in China market dropped 12.6% last year – representing a second consecutive year of sales decreases.

The French giant now ranks fourth place among the top retailers in China, behind its French competitor Auchan. The latter having benefited from its partnership with the Taiwanese company Ruentex (from Sun Art Retail group) in 2000, which allowed them to diversify their retail platforms earlier than Carrefour by initiating the e-commerce platform, Feiniu, and developing more convenient stores.

In seeming response, Carrefour launched their own online store and accompanying app late last month – with the aim to win back ground on Auchan, and other key competitors such as Walmart, Lianhua and RT-Market.

The website offers a wide range of consumer-friendly features such as:

  • Free store delivery for purchases over 100
  • Different payment methods including Unionpay, Alipay and WeChat
  • Mobile Application for shopping
  • Additional discounts exclusive to e-commerce purchases
  • Free returns/exchange of goods at any offline stores
    160518 Carrefour

    Screenshot of Carrefour’s new China app

A new app, a new Carrefour experience for China

The online store 15,000 products, mostly grocery and household items including importing products, available for free delivery directly to consumers’ home. Online shopping has become integrated into local shopping habits and has now become an increasing expectation, even for grocery shopping.

To promote its new online store, Carrefour offered shoppers a special opening discount of 50RMB on their next purchase of 99RMB.

One Chinese consumer’s experience of the new Carrefour

One Carrefour consumer we interviewed, mentioned she usually goes to the physical store because it is close to her house. Since she is a busy professional she doesn’t have much time for grocery shopping.

Using Carrefour’s digital platform makes her life easier as she can buy and have her shopping delivered, all with a mobile application on her phone.

She mentioned she was first drawn to use the app due to the chance to gain discounts.

Carrefour has ‘gone digital’ by creating a benchmark protocol with their competitors. However, it feels like the French brand will need to monitor these competitors closely, in terms of the benefits they offer (Tmall delivers free for 88RMB). They also need to ensure optimal usability for customers (where brands with more long-standing e-commerce platforms have established credibility).

Bonne chance Carrefour, nous croyons en vous.

About Author

Camille Pery

Camille is a researcher on the SMART@Resonance team. Originally from Bordeaux, Camille is currently studying for a Masters in Digital Marketing at INSEEC Business School in Paris. Camille is a fluent Thai speaker and is making super progress on her Mandarin, as well as on the complex world of China’s social networks.

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