The Auchan Marketplace project: an example of digital transformation of an historic retailer
An interview of Denis Vanbeselaere, e-commerce development director at Auchan by Eric Chemouny, VP Sales EMEA at Mirakl, during the Digital Innovation (19/11/2015).
Abstract of the exchanges
Denis Vanbeselaere: We all know Auchan for its hypermarkets, around 120 in France, but also in many countries, mainly in Eastern Europe and Asia. In France, the brand achieves more than 16 billion euros of turnover. Auchan also has supermarkets, real estate, banking and e-commerce activities. Our goal is to come together intelligently to improve our service for the customers, in a complete omnichannel approach.
E. Chemouny: It is a great example of digital transformation of a traditional retail player. I’ll mention that a marketplace is an online space that connects merchants and consumers. So when your business is to operate hypermarkets, supermarkets, e-commerce, why do you launch a marketplace?
D. Vanbeselaere: Because the attributes of the Auchan brand include price, choice, pleasure and the human touch, and the marketplace nurtures all these attributes. Regarding the choice, the role of the marketplace is obvious: it helps us to broaden our product ranges, what is indispensable so that tomorrow we can be part of the customer’s digital reflex.
Concerning the price, the marketplace is helpful because there are different merchants who compete with each other, it leads to propose more competitive price. For the pleasure part, it is to know you can easily find all products in one place. And finally there is the human touch that we want to bring with the marketplace, and this is why we want the marketplace to be completely cross-channel. We want to be different from pure-players, give a different client experience.
E. Chemouny: What will we find on this marketplace and how the offer will be different from the one on others formats?
D. Vanbeselaere: Auchan is mainly known for food, the heart of our business. But we have decided to attack in priority the non-food segment and try to conquer it: this is indispensable to feed our generalist model. Today, you can find already some toys, technical products, childcare, gardening, etc. There is a limited number of sellers but to date there are more than 30,000 references online. It is still small compared to our objective, but we have hundreds of merchants in the pipeline.
E. Chemouny: When you decide to launch such kind of project, how do you structure it between the sales team in the store, and the e-commerce team? Do you have built a dedicated team or did the project fit into the existing system?
D. Vanbeselaere: There are two things. First, the need to set up a specialized, dedicated team. We’ve hired people with experience, either as merchants or as marketplace operators. We have grouped everyone – the managers of the merchants, sales representatives, IT teams, so they can work together as efficiently as possible.
Secondly, there has been a lot of work on persuasion and communication, since for 50 years Auchan’s business has consisted in buying, stocking, delivering, and selling in stores. We’ve had to explain why the marketplace is beneficial and not competing with our core business. So it is a new team, at the service of a project and a brand.
E. Chemouny: Can you tell me more about the coherence between the online marketplace and the physical stores?
D. Vanbeselaere: All our stores are proposing the entire offer of Auchan.fr. As a sales associate in store, I can sell the whole online offer, including the offer of the marketplace merchants, which represent a significant number of our orders in our stores on Auchan.fr. This means that we guide the customer and try to respond to his needs rather than sell the products in stock. It allowed us to reduce the sales area and increase the number of products, and above all introduced a digital reflex to our advisers. Our advisers now are encouraged to rely on the website to meet the customer’s requirements. It’s the best tool to aid the sales process.
E. Chemouny: When launching a marketplace as a large company with a strong historic regarding its information system, you can choose between using an internal team to develop the marketplace technology or using a product like Mirakl, which is turnkey and based on the best practices. You have ve chosen to use Mirakl. What are the benefits for you?
D. Vanbeselaere: First, it has allowed us to work faster. I think there are few companies as old as Auchan who can say they are comfortable with IT and that their systems are up to date. We wondered 3 years ago if we could do it ourselves. But after discussing it with experts, we renounced. Mirakl has brought such a strong value, as it is a simple tool to use and plug. Of course it interacts with all the components of the IT architecture, which is important, but most of all it’s easy. The fact that Mirakl has many clients is also an asset: there are frequent updates, which allow us to constantly improve and it is more than necessary.
E. Chemouny: You told me something that struck me that it is “better to sell via a merchant than to lose a client”. Why is it important to you to stay in touch with clients in any way, including the marketplace?
D. Vanbeselaere: Because you have to maintain a relationship with the customers and it is essential that they trust us. We prefer helping our customers to buy what they are looking for, even if we don’t sell it directly, and conserve their trust. This is essential to build loyalty.
E. Chemouny: What areas of development do you see next for Auchan? You mentioned food, what about international development? Could it be interesting to develop this model further, internationally?
D. Vanbeselaere: We have a lot of exchanges between the e-commerce division of all the countries to build e-commerce activity in different countries, and many are ready to open up to the marketplace. I’m in favor of doing this directly with an integrated marketplace module. We imagined this module during the phase of implementation with Mirakl, we wondered if the marketplace could have another function. Potentially, it can help to upload all the stock in our stores, considering them as merchants of the marketplace. This can also help us to build a catalog or replace the direct home delivery modules. It has to be integrated into the basic architecture when we want to develop e-commerce activity in a country.
E. Chemouny: I will conclude with this figure: in the top 15 sites with the most traffic named by the FEVAD, there are no less than 8 marketplaces. The marketplace model is interesting to launch and gain traffic rapidly. As seen with Auchan, it needs a certain number of prerequisites and reflections but it’s a model that works, which has been shown in every industry.
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