Carrefour’s acceleration during Covid-19
November 26, 2020

Is this some kind of a serious game? This year has been challenging for many companies as they needed to find the energy to reinvent themselves during both waves of lockdowns we have had due to the Covid-19 pandemic. We have witnessed a major paradigm shift, where pace and intensity of reaction has prevailed over forecast accuracy. It is as if we were all duplicated: one part of us working on the day-to-day operations and the other part imagining how we could sustain our initiatives over the long term. A somewhat unusual and surprising gymnastics, won’t you say so? 

Personally, I feel I’ve been evolving in a kind of planetary “Serious Game” with an unknown gameplay.
During the “Wave 1” level, our countries focused their efforts on delivering food supply to all and increasing accessibility of our services to the most fragile populations.
For “Level 2”, we saw the ban on the sales of non-food products – as a reminder, the shortfall for the sector is 750 million euros. Therefore, our efforts focused on launching services to help non-food VSE/SMEs and save our stores.

Overall, I would say the Covid-19 will have enabled acceleration in four main areas: management, risk management, innovation and sustainability. It is up to us to succeed in perpetuating our new skillset; it will make us stronger in this world which will become, one day, more familiar.

Covid-19#1 – Securing food supply for the 100 Million households that rely on us, worldwide

You’re my lucky star, I wouldn’t have made it without you“. This quote from a client Les essentiels still resonates in my head… a sweet feeling of a mission accomplished that gives this little extra meaning to my job. During this first wave, our teams were lulled daily by the gratitude of these fragile people as well as the nursing staff that were priorities for Carrefour. Within a few days, we launched: 

  •  A dedicated e-commerce site dedicated to food bundles’ delivery (i.e., Les Essentiels),
  •  A new ordering channel by phone 

Our stores and warehouses were striving, day and night, to serve our customers. France, Italy and Argentina focused on home delivery and Romania and Belgium on Click & Collect. Our countries vibrated in unison.


Covid-19 #2 – Helping small and medium sized businesses in the food and non-food sectors and save our stores

As we barely recovered from the first wave in most of our geographies (Argentina set a lockdown duration record with 7 months), new rules appeared. Curfews, ban on the marketing of non-food products, lockdowns in cities in Italy and France…you name it!

Step N°1: Leverage our visibility to help small businesses in the food and non-food industry

Early November, we invited small business owners or producers to join our marketplace, free of charge. We received hundreds of requests, and within a week, we listed them on our marketplace so they could benefit from our +15 million monthly visitors.

Step N°2: Save our stores

Here we are, a few weeks away from Christmas, with the ban on the sale of non-food products. This means a loss of around 750 million euros for the sector. 

Remember our ecommerce ecosystem is historically designed to sell food. Within a few days, we had to figure out how to tweek it to handle toys, video games, books and home decoration and develop a Click&Collect service. I’m sure those of you who know it’s hard to use the same UX for a can of peas than for a TV set will understand the compelling challenge we faced.

Our teams in France managed to do the impossible: 

  • Publish + 20,000 product references in ten days, with home delivery of click&collect,
  • Launch interactive catalogs allowing online booking of products and Click & Collect,
  • Launch a phone and a WhatsApp order-taking channel dedicated to non-food products,
  • Launch a brand new e-commerce website for Supeco, our discount brand.

Internationally, our countries reinvented themselves, once again, with the same pragmatism, creativity and frugality:

  • Belgium and Italy partnered with Uber Eats on non-food to offer +6000 SKUs in home delivery, 
  • Romania opened Drives on the parking lots of its hypermarkets, 
  • Brazil anticipated Black Friday,
  • Poland launched a multi-command Click & Collect. 

Covid-19 has forced large companies to accelerate in four areas: management, risk management, innovation and sustainability.

1- From a management with an obligation of means to a management with an obligation of results

I would like to believe that our management schemes will definitely evolve. We’ve learnt to pay less attention to the means invested and more attention to the results. Our companies will softly become more liberated and better fit to attract, reveal and retain GenZ talents.

2- A better ability to manage risk and cope with uncertainty

If knowing how to pivot and take risks is the historical panache of start-ups, large companies have demonstrated their ability to relax constraints. 

Within our teams, we have seen some of our employees take decisions completely out of process and feel confident enough to take responsibility for the positive or negative feedback. 

It is this mindset that enabled us to launch new services around the world, from “Les essentiels” bundles in France and Italy, the Click & Collect Tu Pedido service in Argentina, or the partnerships with UberEats and Bringo.

3- A more collaborative, pragmatic and opportunistic innovation

Even Though we couldn’t step out, we went out… of our comfort zone during Covid-19. We reinvented our historical innovation processes and became much more radical in our decisions. 

Our start-ups, from Potager City to Dejbox or Bringo have played a crucial role in this phase. They passed on their pragmatism and their frugal mindset. We grew, at their side, as we integrated the customer experience at the heart of our thinking.

Personally, I have the impression that we conducted a deep introspection on our role, our value proposition and our strengths and weaknesses. A kind of “back to basics”.

4- Sustainability is more than ever in our veins

As an individual, the limits of the system to which we contribute were obvious: we had to change our mode of consumption, our instinctive need to possess versus use.

Covid-19 invites us to design positive, or at least less-damaging businesses. If Carrefour’s DNA resolutely integrates sustainability, the Covid crisis has only accentuated it. During this period, we undertook to launch or boost several initiatives. “In 2019, we were able to create more than 2 million Too Good To Go meals by upgrading our unsold food in our stores – the equivalent of 2,374 tons of food! Including our warehouses and e-commerce in this partnership will allow us to further increase our efforts to reach the ambitious goal we have set to ourselves: to reduce our food waste by 50% by 2025” states Nicolas Safis, our Sustainable e-commerce project manager.

What next?

We did it once, then twice. The question that falls upon us now is how to scale up. How do we maintain our learnings after “back to normal”? How can we get the teams to adhere to a 3-year vision when they are aware that the cards can be reshuffled in a few weeks? What is the lasting impact on the corporate culture?

Even if we don’t have the answers to these questions, because of the Covid-19, we all got better at dealing with uncertainty and have grown our ability to pivot. Our companies became more self-confident, more than ever conscious of their strengths and weaknesses. We will, without a doubt, be better equipped to grasp the Tomorrow that lies ahead of us, as citizens and as professionals.

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About the Author

Digital and Omnichannel experience Director Valérie is a seasoned digital strategist with +20 years of experience in innovation and design-led transformations. She raises chickens, three kids, and grows her vegetables.

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