Amélie Oudéa-Castera, carrefour

Amélie Oudéa-Castera (Carrefour): "Every contact with a customer must generate some insight for the company"

Par : Sandrine Matichard
22 November 2019
Temps de lecture : 11 min

Weeks after the launch of Lab Carrefour in partnership with Google, the group director of E-commerce Data & Digital considers the many facets of innovation at Carrefour: the revolution in food retail, omnichannel retailing, the remodelling of shops and the back office, all these innovation areas are driven by the same thing: data. 


Amélie Oudéa-Castera is a champion. With a strong academic background in political science, law, the ESSEC business school and the ENA school of administration, she has learned the art of meticulous case management. In a sporting career that saw her reach the quarter-finals of the US Open, Roland Garros and Wimbledon, she's learned how to go the distance and step up the pace.

Following a spell at the Court of Auditors she soon got a taste for competitiveness in the private sector: after a 10-year stint at Groupe Axa, ending up as Chief Marketing & Digital Officer in 2016, she joined the management of Carrefour in late 2018, at the head of the E-commerce, Data & Digital section, with the task of increasing the global value of digital retail as part of the Carrefour 2022 plan. In 2018, Carrefour achieved more than 30% of sales in food e-commerce and has 15,000 products on the Drive system at hypermarket prices.


Some weeks ago you started your Lab in partnership with Google and Artefact. How does this partnership work in practice, and what do you get out of it ?

Amélie Oudéa-Castera: The Carrefour Google Lab actually started in March, and while it's too soon to talk about results, we're very happy with the way it's ramping up. Today there are around 25 people working together as feature teams - four teams to be precise.

They bring together data engineers and data scientists, who work closely with the product owners on a variety of missions. Then there are the business sponsors, because we hope the use cases that we're working on correspond to business issues found in the real world.

The Lab is in the Paris 13th arrondissement, in the WeWork building, a stone's throw from Station F. We expect to take on a dozen more people by the end of 2019, then as we gradually industrialise our Minimum Viable Models (MVM), we may bring in extra talent if needed.

We are very happy with the synergy of roles with our partner Google, which gives us access to the Google Cloud Platform technology, working methods, and expertise that challenges us on use cases like the TenX method, which help us verify that the models can have an important impact on the company. 

On top of that, our partner Artefact has helped us to put together the feature teams, to get the right level of expertise, to settle in with the preparation of our MVMs, the next step being to industrialise them and fully integrate them into the IT roadmaps. It's quite a thrilling experiment from the human perspective:

How Lab Carrefour works:

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The Google agreement also provides for the inclusion of the Carrefour product range on the Google Shopping Actions marketplace, and this has been assiduously carried out. Carrefour was the first player ready on this marketplace in the non-food sector.

It was quite a technical and technological challenge to build the right connectors, the right APIs to integrate prices and products completely seamlessly, and our teams rose to the challenge very well. We're now making great progress as we're about to look at a number of adjacent sectors of consumption.


What part does digital play in the 2022 transformation plan?

The 2022 Carrefour plan consists of four main pillars: the central pillar involves the transition of food retail, the second relates to the omnichannel benchmark model we want to build, the third is linked to costs and productivity, and the last pillar focuses on the development of our organisation and on cultural change.

But there is data in all these areas: with regard to challenges in the transition of food retail, it gives us a granular knowledge of the range; it structures the omnichannel model, by interweaving customer journeys and monitoring customer value at the global level; it has a very important role in reducing costs in productivity issues, for example to produce accurate forecasts of e-commerce orders and thus calibrate the size of picking teams and optimise stock management.

Lastly, with challenges around changes in culture, we can take readings of employee satisfaction. Actually this culture of data is percolating all the way through the 2022 Carrefour plan.

The role of data at Carrefour:

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What customer data do you collect?

It's vitally important that every contact with a customer generates some insight for the company. We can analyse navigation data (cookies), and data linked to millions of daily transactions (receipts) - this is high-value data because it's well structured.

We also look at CRM data (customer interactions, returns, complaints etc.) and lastly, customer perception info: NPS surveys (Net Promoter Score = satisfaction surveys – editor's note), on-the-spot survey, brand perception info. Such feedback helps us to continually improve the quality of the customer experience.


How do you approach predictive marketing?

As a Lab we work on AIs using predictive models, for example to anticipate the effects of a promotion, minimise stock shortages or predict the promotions most likely to impact on such and such a customer profile.

Predictive AI at Carrefour:

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What about the in-store digital experience?

I tend to say that the digital transformation at Carrefour has three dimensions: e-commerce, in-store deployment, and food tech. So in-store digital is very important and has a lot of complementary aspects: electronic labels, apps for pickers so they can manage their productivity, know where to find the right product more quickly, and meet the customer's demand for immediacy. 

We also look at experiments like the rapid detection of gaps in shelf displays through data collected by cameras and sensors.  We will try to work on geomarketing around the store, to gee up our catchment area.

We see it as a series of innovations, all of which aim to give customers a better experience - scan and go, self-checkout, etc. right up to payment through our Carrefour Pay system - but also innovations which give our in-store staff better and more efficient conditions to work in. This process is going to speed up in the months to come.


Beyond the shop environment, what are your next avenues of innovation for the customer experience?

On our e-commerce interfaces we're looking at how to diversify ways of shopping, using all possible interactions such as voice (that's the aim of the project we're planning with Google in food retail), or extending our presence in marketplaces, whether they're operated by us in certain geographic areas or by third parties like Google Shopping Actions.

In short to offer the most practical new ways of ordering a product, especially a food product if I go back to our e-commerce strategy. So the answer is through design, the UX.

We also innovate with technological optimisations of our logistical chain, from picking to warehouse management. It's about having the right technological density, the best possible relationship between certain types of robotics and the precision of human beings in a certain number of tasks.

Innovation at Carrefour takes many, many forms. It's also built into the next-level store and even into the diversification of payment methods, two areas where we are quite ahead. That's what makes the retail industry rather unique: fast and all-out innovation, and such intense competition that you have to be able to work on every link in the chain, and move at top speed to innovate.


What are the challenges in food tech innovation for Carrefour?

What's going on in the world of food tech is quite fascinating because you see a value chain completely restructuring itself without anyone knowing at the time who is going to have the best business model, between what are called cloud kitchens, focused on culinary production and adapted to e-commerce practices, and operators of meal kits, food delivery, etc.

Carrefour has a very strong project just now in food retail, which is to have the best possible response to this growing diversification of uses in relation to food provision, partly through the basket of historic brands (Reflets de France, Carrefour Bio, etc.) but also by positioning itself on ready-cooked dishes, home delivery of hot meals and the traditional grocery trade reinvented by offering recipes.

Food tech, the food retail revolution:

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How do you participate in this innovation with the new players?

Our innovation team, and its Open Innovation department, is responsible for sourcing startups.  Also the New Business Department studies which startups we could acquire and the type of business model such acquisitions would build.

We also have strong links with a number of investment funds, for example Partech, and incubators, or sometimes a hybrid of the two (for example, Lafayette Plug and Play in the Galeries Lafayette group). With these big trusted partners we can get an early read on trends, and access to entrepreneurs.  And of course there's our own desire to meet these entrepreneurs, talk to them, and have a genuine interest in their ideas. Carrefour aims to be one of the players in this upgrading of food retail models.


If innovation is a competitive advantage in commerce, where does the price factor fit in today?

Lots of indicators show that price is still very important. One would have to be blind not to see that in today's world buying power is a major issue. Carrefour has always kept a close eye on this, along with quality, so as to give our customers a range of highly attractive and regularly presented promotions. The customer perception of a good quality-price mix is still crucial in their desire to buy such and such a brand.

It's maybe even more important in e-commerce, because the competition is only a click away! We need to be constantly monitoring the competitiveness of our offer, and capturing market prices in real time to stay competitive, and working on our own processes so that our whole operational chain is optimised, and we're able to offer our customers the best quality-price mix.


How do you see loyalty programmes developing?

We started a new loyalty programme in February 2019 which is showing good results. We have different ideas and ways of implementing subscription formats in some of the Carrefour startups (Quitoque and Croquetteland - editor's note), but for us the key point is relevance: when we talk about artificial intelligence, I'm struck by the fact that when we take into account all the insights we have at our disposal, we can double the number of coupon activations by customers. It's through using this data that the customer has volunteered to us that the battle for loyalty is going to fought.


Can Carrefour be a third way between American-style and Chinese-style new retail?

Obviously we're closely watching new concepts like Hema in China, and what Walmart is doing to restructure, and also the alliance between Amazon and Whole Foods.  At the same time, we strive to have that special 'Carrefour' touch, for example with:

  • The Act for Food programme on the transition of food retail,
  • The diversity of our brands with clear legibility for the customer,
  • Our work on the quality of the omnichannel customer journey,
  • Our approach to remodelling our shops.

The shop is the promotion point for our omnichannel offer, but it's also a dynamic place where things move constantly, and where you find innovation and freshness.

The Carrefour touch, for Amélie Oudéa-Castera:

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Modernity also means responding to new uses, like the food courts we've seen coming up in the US which offer a diverse cuisine to customers who come to eat out in a shopping mall or hypermarket. The Carrefour hallmark is the wealth and breadth of its range, including in food retail. It's still a go-to shop, but now with added omnichannel and service dimensions.


As cities change, what effect will this have on business and on Carrefour in particular?

Bringing business into cities in the next five to ten years will depend on a number of factors, including the carbon footprint of a shop environment, I think that's going to become a factor in the choice of destination.

Traffic management, the whole battle - a classic one in retail - over the quality of the location, whether or not it can be efficiently serviced, that's going to be absolutely critical. In the same way, there's a major battle in e-commerce over the last mile: you have to be efficient without it costing or polluting too much. 

The challenges are absolutely huge! In fact more than ever, our shops and operations are in tune with the environment.

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Content & Insights Director

Sandrine Matichard is the Content & Insights Director at HUB Institute.

Transforming the media with a both an editorial and business eye, she began her career as a journalist, then a marketer in mainstream media (L'Equipe TV, L', La Tribune, Libération, etc.), and finally as editor in the BtoB Strategies media department. She is now devoted to the editorial strategy, for brands or for the media: background, form, timeframes, multi-channel deployment, new concepts, etc.