World Retail Congress Event Recap

Perhaps with deference to the Olympics in Paris this summer, World Retail Congress took “High Performance Retail” as its theme. Catch up on all you missed from the event here.
Judith McKenna, former Walmart international president and CEO
Judith McKenna, former Walmart international president and CEO, pictured on right

Just as January’s NRF Big Show in New York helped define the outlook for the year ahead in North America, the World Retail Congress, held this year in Paris from April 16-17, gave a first-quarter report on what is exercising the minds of European and global retail leaders.

Not surprisingly, the opportunities around retail media networks (RMNs) were to the fore at this year’s event. Matt Clark, AlixPartners managing director and a speaker at the event, said RMNs are among six key trends reshaping the industry. “Companies are coming together with retailers to create networks, with huge potential,” he said.

“Retail media networks are a new way of reaching the customer and have become fundamental to us in terms of the in-store experience, allowing us to achieve better distribution through stores and enabling us to connect in ways we can't through TV advertising,” added Juanjo Sotomayor, chief commercial officer, AWWG. 

However, Judith McKenna, former Walmart international president and CEO, noted that although RMNs offer a great opportunity “we have to look at how we use it without impacting the customer experience.”

In this special report from Paris, we round up some of the key sessions:

Alexandre Bompard Carrefour CEO
Carrefour CEO Alexandre Bompard (Photo source: World Retail Congress/Gomes Photography)

Opening Address: Digital at Heart of Everything

Speaking as the opening keynote, Carrefour CEO Alexandre Bompard said that digital remains “at the heart” of everything the French grocery giant is doing and added that digital is an essential part of the model Carrefour is building for the future.

“Digital remains at the heart of everything, including technology, data, ecommerce and retail media,” he said. “It has been a tough journey, a tough battle. Transforming a 60-year-old company from the ground up, guiding it to embrace powerful new trends with uncertain outcomes, such as digital and climate change, is no small feat.”

Bompard said that his biggest challenge when taking up his role at Carrefour was that the business had “lost momentum” and his “obsession” was to get Carrefour back on track, which included taking some tough measures, including restructuring and selling off operations in loss operating countries, such as China.

“One key challenge was to turn around our hypermarkets, which we thought were on the brink of extinction,” he said. “We tackled the hypermarkets in three ways: first, by becoming customer centric, [then] by completely changing our organization and process to boost productivity, and thirdly, for the most troubled stores, we partnered with entrepreneurs for issues we couldn’t resolve by ourselves. The plan was to pave the way for omnichannel and integrate our physical channels with our digital ones seamlessly.”

David Roth, CEO of The Store, Mindshare's Janet Levine, Vericast's Hans Fischmann, Placer.Ai's Ethan Chernofsky
From left to right: David Roth, CEO of The Store; Mindshare's Janet Levine; Vericast's Hans Fischmann; and Placer.Ai's Ethan Chernofsky (Photo source: World Retail Congress/Gomes Photography)

Rediscovering the Store

Customers who visit a physical store are much more open to discovery and conversion, moderator David Roth, CEO of The Store, WPP, said as he opened up a session on “next-gen in-store media” at the Congress.

Janet Levine, executive director, invention and strategy, Mindshare, a WPP company, added that the strategy is changing for retailers when it comes to media. Brick-and-mortar stores have become media platforms that can be leveraged to influence and inform consumers to buy in-store, online, or in the future, building long-term brand awareness, she said.

“It is so much of an opportunity and it's imperative to reach our consumers in the store, not just drive them to the store,” she said. “We have to craft and design a program that leverages a whole ecosystem, which means every stage of the funnel has to have shopability. It's all about integration.”

Hans Fischmann, vice president of product management, Vericast, added that the understanding of retail media networks from retailers, who are beginning to look at their customers in a different light, goes beyond just commerce.

“Most transactions are still carried out in the real world. Most importantly you could miss an opportunity to influence people [in-store],” he said. “The challenge is how we do that. Retailers have been sitting on unused value, but with the new metrics that can be valued and also used for your planning. Now each square foot has a blended margin.”

He said that the important thing is contextualization in terms of messaging and noted that part of the challenge is getting data points and results in real time.

Nozha Boujemaa, global VP, AI innovation and trust, at sports retail giant Decathlon
Nozha Boujemaa, global VP, AI innovation and trust, Decathlon (Photo source: World Retail Congress/Gomes Photography)

AI With a Human Touch

“We need to talk about security and trust, the safeguards,” said Nozha Boujemaa, global VP, AI innovation and trust, at sports retail giant Decathlon, during the “AI in Retail” session. “We can see how AI is a game-changer, meaning we can connect product and customer and provide a completely different customer journey. We learn from the past and we project for the future.”

As an example, generative AI can examine what sports a customer plays and then promote cross sell and other products the person may require. These types of tools are useful for both online and in-store, as she said: “We need to talk about the sports, not the catalog.”

This also requires a multiskilled team, not just those with technical skills, she said, stressing the need for a balance in building trust so there is hyper-personalization but also reassurance.

Devesh Mishra, president and chief product and technology officer of core AI at Keystone, described the current period as a golden age for AI. “It needs to be a very human-centric approach; it's humans plus machines, getting the creativity of people and leveraging the technology,” Mishra said.

He stressed that AI is “not a Band-Aid” and added that AI is a predictive tool that will inevitably make mistakes, which need to then be used to improve the process.

“Gen AI will bring retailers incredible opportunities. Content management will be one example; it's about conversion. If AI can improve this you will have better conversions,” added Eric Chemouny, managing director for retail and CPG industries EMEA, Google Cloud. “Conversational AI is bringing new opportunities, providing more answers and increasing satisfaction and loyalty.”

From left to right: Snowflake's Paul Winsor and Etam's Sophie Gallay
From left to right: Snowflake's Paul Winsor and Etam’s Sophie Gallay (Photo source: World Retail Congress/Gomes Photography)

Data Needs to Be Nurtured

Data is something that should be nurtured, said Pat Nestor, Kraft Heinz head of analytics product, in a panel discussion on “embracing the data revolution in retail.” Leading the panel, Paul Winsor, Snowflake head of industry go-to-market (GTM), retail and CPG, said data, for industry leaders, is the “life blood” that drives high performance and competitive advantage.

“Quite simply, without the right data and the right strategy in place, you risk getting left behind,” Winsor said.

Nestor added that data is paramount to the success of the retail giant’s strategy and will be over the next 10 years. “We are really trying to build that unicorn sense of truth, which is easier said than done,” he said. “It’s about investing in data because data really is a product and asset that needs to be nurtured and managed.” 

Sophie Gallay, group data and client director, Etam, added that it took the French lingerie brand some time to become efficient with its data and establish a real strategy, but has since narrowed its focus.

“Data is at the core of Etam’s business, it is an essential asset for our operations and strategy and we use it on a daily basis to monitor performance,” she said. “The competitive landscape changed and we’ve seen competitors arriving in our main markets, competitors that are slightly more agile than what we are, so they are attacking us quite strongly.”

Nicola Johnson, U.S. Alphabet Google alliance chief commercial officer
Nicola Johnson, U.S. Alphabet Google alliance chief commercial officer (Photo source: World Retail Congress/Gomes Photography)

Forecasting and Agility

In a session centered on "winning with customers through data-driven experiences," Nicola Cora, head of IT omnichannel, Bata Group, said one of the key areas for his company last year was a focus on product availability in store, because there is nothing worse than having a customer who is ready to buy, but can't. "Thanks to machine learning, we are looking at our availability and customer trends, to have better forecasting,” he said.

The company has also developed an in-store solution to order products that are not available in the store, but are in its network, and has developed an AI-driven internet product to more easily collect feedback.

“Start always from your customer needs,” he said. “You need to be agile and flexible to react, because technology is evolving very fast. AI is a reality so you should experiment, it's a must, but understand where AI can help in your company, it may not be needed everywhere. Think big, but act small and scale fast.”

Nicola Johnson, U.S. Alphabet Google alliance chief commercial officer, and principal at Deloitte, added: “We are seeing a massive advance in this analytical ability. AI is becoming deeper and more contextual, so the ability to connect the dots is changing dramatically. It's not just a fad; it's here to stay.”

She said that the technology was increasingly being used to converge consumer and customer insights, build customer profiles, analyze share of wallet, and work through that data to look at pricing optimization, customer sentiment and other key metrics.