10 seconds to shop, 10 seconds to pay! Carrefour Flash is the most incredible next-gen store: no gates, no apps, no lines… it’s simply the fastest way to shop! Here’s a glimpse of the backstage effort that made it all happen.
Carrefour Flash has been a great journey that didn’t happen in the snap of a finger. Since 2018, Carrefour’s strategy is going towards a more digitized approach to retail. In accordance with this strategy, Carrefour’s innovation department decided to set up an “Innovation Lab” in order to create and test new services imagined by its designers.
The first theme prioritized by Carrefour was the “Frictionless Store” symbolized at the time by the Amazon Go initiative in Seattle. Now, unlike many who wanted to replicate the experience, Carrefour took it further and made it better. To achieve this, innovation teams decided to push off user research and therefore redefine the ideal user journey for its customers.
Thus, we came up with our very own version of the “Frictionless Store” offering our customers a unique shopping experience. In this article, we will tell you about how we went from our first test store (Labstore) at Carrefour’s headquarters in France, to the real Flash experience in Paris.
From scratch to Flash: where it all started
The Innovation strategy is to focus on identifying customer pain points to create new services and make the customer journey as efficient and painless as possible. What most surveys have shown us is that the biggest pain point in physical shopping is waiting in line for checking-out. This was our starting point for designing a completely new customer journey. Flash has therefore become the most symbolic experience for the Innovation department.
To design the simplest, most flawless experience for our customers, we began conducting a consumer’s behavior analysis (customer surveys, customer interviews, observations) to better understand our customers beliefs and habits. Three main points emerged from this research:
- For more than 60 years, shoppers entered our stores freely and without restraint. The majority of them won’t download an app to enter the store (download, account creation, QR code scan to open the entry gate). Furthermore, as fears over data collection grow, shoppers are becoming less willing to share private information.
- Shoppers appreciate checkout-free retail, but they still want to check if they are charged for the right items and know how much they’re paying before leaving the store.
- Shoppers still value the in-store experience and human contact. There’s a lot of value in meaningful human interaction, which technology can never replace.
In parallel with this research study, we presented the “frictionless store” theme during the “Junior Inno Day 2017” (Carrefour’s student competition) in order to encourage innovative, out-of-the-box thinking and inspiring ideas among students. STRATE Design School was the winning team with an innovative in-store service called Flash.
Translate an idea into project
To test the concept of the Flash experience, we made an in-store simulation in order to get feedback from our customers and collaborators on this new service as soon as possible.
We firstly installed a fake Flash terminal in a Parisian Carrefour City store. The mock-up was a big “totem” with a screen to display the customer and a simulated shopping cart. The conclusions of this test confirmed the enthusiasm for a new faster and innovative shopping service.
At this stage, we realized that no partner on the market was able to carry out this experiment from A to Z. So we decided to do it ourselves. We split the project into multiple technical issues that needed to be developed and we looked for the best partners for solving each of these issues.
After several weeks of research and discussions, we selected an American startup called AiFi, sourced by Matthieu Benkerant, for the anonymous in-store tracking of the customers and product identification (real time virtual basket).
With all the partners identified, we put together a team with Carrefour’s best technical experts (internal and external). This close-knit multidisciplinary team (with architects, payment experts, iOS, Android, Java developers, UX designers) had the mission of managing 3 streams (sub-projects): the checkout terminal, the payment application, and last, but not least, the implementation of the AiFi tracking technology.
Making people work together
Given the amount of internal and external actors to align on this ambitious project we defined an agile approach with some very strong methodological pillars but adapted to our context.
Clear, shared and flexible methods: we launched the project with a 2-hour Kickoff meeting in October 2018 and presented the project framework, goals and deliverables. It was important for us to have a clear and shared approach to work and set ground rules for how team members should interact with one another and with the stakeholders. We also made sure that the methodology remains flexible throughout the project. The sprint retrospective meeting at the end of every sprint helped teams to continuously adapt and improve their way of working.
Steady and constant pace: when we defined the project’s milestones and deliverables, each team decided to work in 2-week Sprints, with a common Demo at the end of each Sprint to demonstrate progress and new features. The demos have never stopped.
Total transparency: at the end of each sprint, the Agile teams demonstrated the progress achieved in the last Sprint and shared the progress to be achieved for the next 2 weeks. Demos were filmed, edited and broadcasted to the largest number in order to communicate the progress to all stakeholders.
All this would not have been possible without extremely strong sponsorship from Carrefour’s Comex. From the moment we first met AiFi in Santa Clara in February 2018, we knew they were the best partner for this complex and ambitious project. Thanks to intensive collaboration we were rapidly able to launch the first version of the Flash project inside Massy’s Labstore, a test store that was about to be created in Carrefour headquarter.
Labstore: a challenging opening
The opening of the Labstore took place in June 2019 and the opening of the Flash service was effective at the end of September 2019 in Carrefour headquarters at Massy.
The list of challenges encountered before and after the opening is too long to be discussed here, but as Sebastien Picart (Director of Transformation and Digital Director Carrefour Proximity at the time) admitted his team was prepared to handle all eventualities, ready to adapt to changes and overcome daily challenges.
To give you an idea of the range of challenges we encountered over the past year, we even had to organize a tripartite American-Chinese-French video conference for selecting the mounting solution system for installing the cameras on the ceiling and decide who was going to do what. The devil is in the details!
The extremely fast-paced work of two-week Sprints generated a certain amount of last minute stresses. We even had to deal with last-minute changes right in the middle of a Comex presentation. It’s what we like to call now the “Bartek effect” 😉
Flash technology: up and running
The goal of this test store has always been to confront customers with Flash new features as quickly as possible. At first, we recruited a small group of beta testers among our employees. Only in a second step the store was opened to all the Carrefour employees in Massy headquarters. Thanks to them, we were able to improve the solution step by step.
Since Flash’s computer vision system uses machine learning, all of our collaborators’ experiences have been very valuable. They helped a lot to train the tracking algorithm and enrich it with each new use case identified.
We wanted to share with you a few figures about the Labstore. The average number of daily checkouts at the Labstore was 150. In the initial version of the Flash system, the average number of SCO (regular self check-out) vs Flash checkouts was 70% vs 30%, and gradually moved to 50/50% by early 2020. Then, after a major change in the size and the position of the Flash checkout terminal (from a 2 meters high totem to a standard tablet), the ratio rose to 70% (vs 30% for the SCO).
Carrefour Flash: let’s go big!
After extensive in-house development and testing, Carrefour Flash has officially opened its doors on 24 November 2021 at 11 avenue Parmentier, in Paris’ eleventh arrondissement. Carrefour Flash is the first store of this kind in France and in the world.
With this innovative new format, Carrefour Flash is the simplest and most fluid retail experience that has ever been created: “10 seconds to shop and 10 seconds to pay”. Customers are free to enter and exit the store without having to pass through a gateway. There is no need to download an app or register beforehand. Customers can view their total spend in real-time and payment that is almost instantaneous. There is no need for a shopping cart, products can go straight into a shopping bag!
Shoppers simply walk into the store, simply pick items the way they usually do, with no scanning needed. The system automatically detects when an item is picked or put back on shelves and compiles all items into a virtual shopping list. The list of products is displayed in less than 1 second when the shopper arrives in front of one of the payment terminals. Contactless payment enables the entire check-out to be done within less than 10 seconds. Once payment is completed, a QR code can be scanned to obtain a digital receipt.
Payment is powered by Market Pay’s contactless payment solution called PayWish, in collaboration with Mastercard and Samsung. Thanks to NFC technology, we transformed a Samsung tablet into a payment terminal and made the payment process ultra-rapid and nearly frictionless. For any amount beyond the contactless limit (50€), a pin code can be keyed directly on the touchscreen.
A great public acclaim
The launching of Carrefour Flash has exceeded our expectations, we can truly say it has been a blast! Hundreds of journalists and retail experts praised the innovative and pioneer nature of Carrefour Flash.
Flash has gathered positive feedback since its launch. As we do in all our stores, we started using Net Promoter Score (NPS) to monitor our customers’ satisfaction. It involves putting one single question to users: “On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend us to a friend?”. The results are then sorted into three categories: Promoters (score of 9 or 10), Passives (7 or 8) and Detractors (0 to 6). The NPS is then calculated using the following formula: NPS = (% of promoters) – (% of Detractors). The result ranges from -100 to 100.
Our first clients are more than happy and satisfied with the new Flash service. The NPS for the first three weeks reached a score of 52,4.
What next for Carrefour Flash?
Flash Parmentier is the perfect opportunity to experiment with this new technology, to test it with real customers in a real store. We will continue to gather, share and implement customer feedback to improve and simplify this next-gen technology along the way with our key partner AiFi.
Of course, our wish is not to stop here! If the results of this experimental store turns out to be positive, we have the ambition to deploy the Flash 10-10 service in other stores and other countries.
At the same time, Carrefour Brazil continues to expand its “Flash Scan & Go” stores network. In these other kinds of next-gen stores, customers can use their smartphones to shop and pay for the products they want to take home.