All you wanted to know about Carrefour’s digital transformation: exclusive interview with Guillaume de Colonges, Carrefour Group Executive Director for Merchandise, Supply and Formats.
Hi Guillaume! We are really excited to have you on Horizons by Carrefour today! Before we deep-dive into Carrefour’s digital transformation, I’d like to start with a couple of “Horizons special ice breakers” in order to get to know you a bit more.
When you look at the horizon, what activity -in your spare time- would you like to start?
Guillaume de Colonges: Sports, from tennis to cycling, and I also enjoy motorcycling. Sport is essential for maintaining balance in life and helps in surpassing one’s limits. I like setting personal challenges and practicing various disciplines. I attended triathlons, half-Ironman. Last summer, with friends, we enjoyed cycling up Mont Ventoux. Sharing this feeling of effort with a group, it’s great!
What is the sunshine, whether it is professional or personal, that makes you wake up in the morning with a big smile?
Guillaume de Colonges: To be involved in many projects. The act of sharing moments and experiences with friends or colleagues, and progressing together. That’s why I need various personal and professional projects with rich human interactions.
And what are the grayish clouds that make you want to stay in bed?
Guillaume de Colonges: I would say anything that damages entrepreneurial spirit or the desire to act. Individualism, bureaucracy, private agendas annoy me. Whether in business or in private life, only teamwork allows for building. I really value frank and straightforward interactions.
A career is a bit like a constellation of professional experiences. Reflecting about your professional journey, which one would you choose?
Guillaume de Colonges: The attachment I have to Carrefour, I found it in every country I worked in.
I particularly remember a significant moment in one of them. This country was suffering from a downturn in activity. There was uncertainty about our ability to retain it within the Group. The entire team mobilized to turn things around… I’m still moved when I think of the pride and gratitude of the teams when I told them that the Carrefour adventure would go on. It shows amazing involvement of teams for the firm.
Now that we know a bit more about you, let’s talk about your current role! You have been a part of Carrefour since 1992 and occupied various positions in many of our geographies. From COO of Carrefour Taiwan to CEO of northern and eastern Europe. Then in 2020, you became Group Merchandise Executive Director. Could you explain to us what your role consists of?
Guillaume de Colonges: At Carrefour, the following activities are known as Merchandise: Offer, Purchasing, Sourcing, Supply Chain, Retail data collaboration. The aim of these activities is to offer to all our clients quality products that are available and accessible.
The role of Merchandise therefore covers several areas: ensuring the relevance of our product range, guaranteeing the competitiveness of commercial purchases, steering product development for the Carrefour private label, promoting our range and developing sales, managing the supply chain, overseeing stocks and commercial data, and defining merchandising plans and micro-concepts.
As the head of the Group Merchandise Department, my role is to structure, coordinate with Carrefour countries but also implement operationally merchandise activities within the Group. This also implies investment in people development and organizational transformation.
Carrefour has recently embarked on an ambitious digital transformation, with the final aim of becoming a true DigitalRetail company. How has this transformation affected your areas, like supply and merchandise?
Guillaume de Colonges: By adopting a “data-centric, digital first” culture, Carrefour is driving profound changes to traditional business processes including: pricing, assortment strategy, activity forecasts, logistics and supply flows and administrative processes.
For example, for the assortment, we set up an automated assortment builder, with 80% of the assortment automatically defined. Based on our transactional data, it also builds a more relevant range, linked to the needs of our customers.
Another example is the creation of our Group’s product repository, iREF, for ‘International Referential’. We recently created a digital tool that enables us to fastly and massively retrieve product information from suppliers, enrich it, control its quality and easily transmit this information to our business entities for all Europe. It is a gain in terms of productivity, reliability and time to market.
What are the ongoing or upcoming hot topics and projects?
Guillaume de Colonges: Recently, we launched our new Group Digital Factories. After a year rich in the digitalization of our core Merchandise activities, we accelerate with the integration of digital factories into our businesses. Therefore, in September, we launched the Group Merchandise and Commercial Digital Factory and the Group Supply Chain Digital Factory.
These Digital Factories already allowed us to deliver concrete projects of digitalization of our operational processes, such as the Assortment Suite and Promo Optimizer. On top of that, we have launched many other projects, including our new Carrefour Brand PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) or for instance our own new should-cost tool, a digital manufacturing simulation software that analyzes key cost drivers at a granular level and calculates should costs for each SKUs.
You’ve mentioned the term ‘Digital Factory.’ Could you please explain it?
A Digital Factory is a team composed of business experts, product, tech & data, and design professionals, all working together in an agile way to develop digital solutions that meet business needs.
Each perimeter owns a Digital Factory: one for Merchandise, one for Supply Chain, one for Data Collaboration with Suppliers, etc.
Our Digital Factories are responsible for their respective group’s digital strategy. They set objectives, build, deliver, maintain and ensure the best governance.
The main idea is that people from the business and the operations are the one to lead the digitalization of the company. Through Digital Factories, they are owners of the projects on their perimeters. We believe it is key to success.
There’s a topic you haven’t yet mentioned that’s starting to gain traction: the 2D barcode. Could you explain what it is exactly?
Guillaume de Colonges: In fact, we are pioneers, as we have already implemented a 2D barcode on our Carrefour-branded wines. The 2D barcode represents the future of barcode technology, enabling the inclusion of more detailed information such as use-by dates, lot numbers, lists of allergens, etc.
This is not only an innovative service eagerly awaited by our customers but also a significant development for our internal organizations, including store operations and the Supply Chain.
The next step will be to engage our national brand suppliers in this initiative, enhancing customer satisfaction.
You also play a strategic role in Carrefour’s data activities, with the creation of Carrefour Links and, more recently, the joint venture Unlimitail, reuniting Carrefour with Publicis. Could you tell us more about it?
Guillaume de Colonges: In terms of commercialisation of data, we have two main activities. Firstly, data collaboration with suppliers on category management or supply chain optimization, a role fulfilled by our dedicated entity, Carrefour Links. Secondly, Retail Media where we distribute advertising using Carrefour’s data and advertising space. In that respect, we announced the creation of Unlimitail last June, a joint venture with Publicis.
How do Carrefour Links and Unlimitail interact with each other?
Guillaume de Colonges: From January 2024, Unlimitail will be Carrefour’s retail media agency and take over the commercialisation and operation of Carrefour’s retail media activities. We will still operate and develop data collaboration with our suppliers under the brand Carrefour Links, both at global level and in Carrefour countries.
To ensure and strengthen the commercial relationships we have with major brands, a perfect coordination between retail media, data collaboration and trade marketing complementary activities is key in a common growth approach to all supplier and retailer topics: promotions, pricing, merchandise, assortment, retail media, etc.
Speaking of collaboration, one last question. It is often said that digitalization is for everyone, but how does this apply to your agricultural partners? What impact does digital transformation have on your relationships with them?
Guillaume de Colonges: At Carrefour, we integrate digital technology into our core business, including our traditional food services and our network of 12,000 farmer partners in France, who are part of the Carrefour Quality Lines.
Last April, we launched “Parcelle”, a new digital platform designed to enhance exchanges and collaboration between Carrefour teams and our agricultural partners. This platform focuses on sharing information, simplifying processes, and providing valuable services for our producers.
This initiative aligns with our wider goal to transform Carrefour into a DigitalRetail Company, highlighting our dedication to extending digitalization to our customers, associates, and partners.