Nicholas Carroll
Nicholas Carroll, Category Director - Retail Insights, has a particular flare for the grocery industry but analyses and writes in-depth reports on a range of UK and European retail markets.

At the recent UK France Retail Night, organised by Business France, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel of French retailers and technology companies, where we discussed how game-changing technology can help boost the customer experience, how old technology can be utilised to create new ideas and why the physical store still has a place – despite technology’s growing importance.

Using technology to boost the customer experience

Decathlon UK’s Digital and Store Concept Coordinator, Charles Henri Duclos, noted the importance of gamification in creating a useful link between the online and in-store experience. Using the game, Decathlon provides players with a code that can be validated in their stores by purchasing something – and thus helping to drive in-store traffic.

While Arnaud de Monitille, the founder of the jewellery gifting company Merci Maman, found that digital data, if used effectively, can really help to enhance the personalisation of the client experience. He said that they used to send the same emails to all clients, but not anymore as they use data to ensure they are producing more personalised messages for their customers. In this vein, they’re also using different landing pages to better speak to the different categories of customers they have.

From left to right: Decathlon’s Charles Henri Duclos, Ke-Quang Nguyen-Phuc of Quivdi and Merci Maman’s Arnaud de Monitille, Nick Carroll

Old tech, new ideas

Decathlon’s Duclos surprised the audience by saying that the technology he’s most excited about in the retail market and that he believes will become more common in five years is QR codes. He said that QR codes are cheap to create, but still offer great insights into shopper preferences. Their stores have information points where using QR codes customers can find out more information about products and check on stock availability.

The Chief Executive of the data analytics company Quividi, which works with companies such as Westfield and Harrods, agreed. Ke-Quang Nguyen-Phuc of Quivdi thought it was a shame that QR codes aren’t used more in the UK and noted that in China, for example, the tech giant Tencent is using QR codes via WeChat to increase engagement.

Physical stores still play an important role

Although online retail sales are growing at a phenomenal rate, physical stores still play an important role in the retail mix. Even online retail giants are moving into the physical space – with Amazon buying Wholefoods and also starting to open Amazon Go stores.

Merci Maman’s founder told the audience that many online pure play retailers in France have also started to open showrooms and shops, because they want to create real life experiences for customers and help them understand the brands. He said that his customers want something local, personalised and with an ‘Amazon-like’ service – so they’re striving to offer the best customer service without compromising on prices.

Decathlon’s Duclos said at their new shop in Canada Water, they’ve created an immersive customer experience, with a rooftop sports court and a big focus on in-store trial areas throughout the store – where you can, for example, try out your golf swing or ride bicycles.