The path to a unified e-commerce site
June 29, 2020

As part of Carrefour’s 2022 transformation plan, the Group envisioned a unified online presence in each country and Carrefour Romania‘s CEO tasked a small group to pilot this project: One Carrefour Romania. I wanted to share our experience and learnings of this ambitious initiative that had a great incidence in shaping our e-commerce strategy.

The digital ecosystem of Carrefour Romania in 2017

At the beginning of 2017, Carrefour Romania presented a complex digital ecosystem to its online customers and visitors: 

  • a corporate website, 
  • a grocery e-commerce platform, 
  • an HR website, 
  • a corporate mobile app, 
  • a scan & pay mobile app, 
  • several other minor websites, serving campaign and project purposes and the scaffolding for a marketplace platform. 

Several external contractors developed these websites and mobile apps and they were managed by internal teams.

This complicated ecosystem was the results of years of concurrent and diverging projects and development directions. Internally, as you can imagine, there was no easy way to manage this plethora of web and mobile applications, present a cohesive image and maintain a single voice. Plus, a major pain point was that Carrefour’s customers had to create different accounts for each of these entities. 

Let’s take a tour of our former websites:

The Corporate website

The local corporate website was launched back in 2001, when Carrefour opened its first Romanian hypermarket. Besides information about the brick and mortar stores, the catalogs and other offers and promotions, another point of interest of the corporate website was, to no one’s surprise, the job listings.

The Grocery e-Store

Carrefour Romania launched its first ecommerce website – carrefour-online.ro (CO) – in April 2013. It was the first e-commerce website focused on grocery delivery launched in Romania, powered by Sitecore .NET CMS. It was also the first project developed using an agile methodology in Carrefour Romania.

The products were shipped from darkstores and the delivery area was limited to Bucharest and the surrounding area.

Before 2016, we experienced the limitations of Sitecore as an e-commerce platform. It was blatant when we tried to adapt it to Carrefour’s existing software and process flows and those related to dark store operations. 

However, in 2016, the website was rebuilt from ground up. It was relaunched with a new, custom built, microservices architecture and a new design using Angular. It also had its own custom Warehouse Management System serving the new warehouse located outside Bucharest. 

The Marketplace

Carrefour Romania’s own Marketplace was an ambitious project selected from “I have an idea!” incubator. The objective was to create a start-up, outside of Carrefour’s main identity. The Project Sponsor was even Carrefour Romania’s CEO. 

It was one of the first  kickstarter projects that we had. It enabled us to transition from a top-down company to a liberated corporation with managers and directors becoming  servant leaders. Indeed, they were advisors and counselors to their employees and teams were empowered to take decisions and act upon them.

As such, the idea of the Marketplace was selected to be developed. A cross-departmental team was tasked with the transformation of the idea in a fully functional and viable project.

  • The start-up team chose Magento Community Edition as the e-commerce platform engine, for a faster implementation
  • We chose the Agile methodology for development, with 2 weeks sprints
  • The scrum team, along with the Product owner, created a high level roadmap and the POet with the Marketplace team weekly, to gather requirements and showcase implemented features
  • The marketplace team shared the status of the project with the Project Sponsor in a monthly review meeting.

The Unification Project

In 2017, the decision to unify all the websites into a single portal was announced.  A multi-company team of software architects and product owners was assembled to identify critical unification points and propose an architectural solution that will deliver:

  • A unified, mobile first, design
  • A single search
  • A unified customer account
  • A single shopping cart & a unified checkout process

As transformation processes go and new projects develop, the adoption of corporate liberation and agile in such a large company was a difficult task.

One of the mistakes in this agile project was accepting a fixed deadline for the launch of the unified portal. This led the architect’s team to propose a solution that seemed viable at that moment in time. However, that led to a lot of problems downstream. The proposal was to:

  • Maintain and develop the existing e-commerce solutions, marketplace based on Magento, CO based on microservices plus the corporate website for news and job listings and apply a new unified frontend theme, aligned with the brandbook
  • Migrate and merge the corporate and CO customers to Magento while keeping all the users credentials, allowing them to login with whatever password they happened to use for the first login (if they happened to have customer accounts on both corporate and CO websites). 
  • Build a unified layer on top of Magento, in Angular that will serve a single, unified header and footer across all three websites, a unified search that will aggregate results from Magento’s ElasticSearch, CO’s Solr and corporate’s custom google search.
  • Create a unified cart and checkout solution, also built on Angular by aggregating the Magento and CO carts and use a shared session across all pages.

Joining forces

Upon agreeing the technical solution, the team expanded. It included backend and frontend developers from three different contractors, a scrum master, consultants for UX and SEO. They were working in 2 weeks sprints, with Carrefour Romania’s CEO as the Project sponsor. The internal cross-departmental team’s task was to oversee the project development with the following responsibilities:

  • Planning & quality 
  • Technical solution
  • Relation with stakeholders
  • Relation with consultants

The difficulties of the development process

  • The agile team chemistry and dynamics was non-existent at first and that translated into a snail-like velocity. Fortunately, after the forming and the storming phases came the norming and the performing phases, just as described in Bruce Tuckaman’s model. Unfortunately, we didn’t take this into consideration at the beginning of the project.
  • Internally, the stakeholder’s interests were often divergent between themselves and within the scope of the project. They were almost impossible to be met by the scrum team. Moreover, at the beginning of the project we, again, failed to identify all the stakeholders. This led to adjustments in the overall scope and new features had to be implemented to accommodate these stakeholders requirements.
  • During the development process, the continuous discovery of new services that needed to be taken into consideration and integrated into the portal was also a major issue and a source of delays.
  • Last, but not least, even though the project used design thinking as a framework in order to provide the best user experience possible, due to the time constraints, the design phase merged with the development and successive user testing led to a series of substantial interface updates that, in turn, had an impact on the underlying backend code.

The unified systems

Go live

Carrefour.ro was (re)launched as an e-commerce portal on May 15, 2018. The project took more than a year to be publicly launched. The go live date was postponed twice, but, as anyone can tell you, the third time’s a charm. 

After all, this project was about a handful of product owners and some developers eager to build a fully functional e-commerce platform from the ground up. They were helped by some of the best UX, SEO, Legal, ITsec and GDPR consultants and a small, but ambitious team of internal stakeholders, empowered by a liberated corporation.

Together, they proved that, given the right mindset and internal support, a company with strong roots in traditional retail can make its entrance with a bang in the e-commerce sector.

The unified systems – simplified infrastructure view

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About the Author

Product Owner at Carrefour Romania With 15 years of experience in e-commerce and digital advertising. Alex's goal is to provide the best customer experience possible.

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