Online retail country focus: France

In France, the opportunities provided by eCommerce are plentiful. If they're to be fully exploited it is essential to understand the demands and expectations of the modern French shopper. In leveraging the findings of Planet Retail's global shopper research for France, the roles of mobile, social media, in-store technology, and fulfilment in the shoppers' journey and the influence each has on purchasing decisions are determined.

French eCommerce is showing robust growth

Over the next five years Planet Retail is forecasting that France's retail market will grow by 14.4%. Currently accounting for 6.7% of retail sales, by 2019 we predict that eCommerce sales will rise to 13.2%, with €57.9 billion being transacted online, a growth rate of 99.2% from today. This far outstrips the 7.4% growth in store-based sales over the period.

Mcommerce is yet to fully take off

The results of our research revealed that shoppers in France have yet to really embrace using their mobiles for shopping activities. We found that of those using their mobiles to access the internet, only 28% are using it for shopping-related activities. This is compared to the 41% average across their European counterparts covered by our research – namely the UK, Germany and Italy.

For those not currently using their mobile for shopping online the reason is clear – 35% feel the internet connection on their mobile is too slow, with the same percentage finding shopping online with their mobile  too difficult to do. Of those using their mobiles for shopping 43% said they'd be likely to use it for such activities when on the go, 37% said it was likely when on the daily commute, while 41% would do so at home watching television. The rise of the constantly connected consumer presents the opportunity for retailers to further extend their relationship with the shopper. However, understanding when, where and how users are engaging with a brand is essential to exploit this opportunity in relevant and timely ways.

Our research suggests that the role of mobile in France is about enhancing the purchasing journey by making it more personalised, helping shoppers make better informed decisions, while nurturing and rewarding loyalty. When asked about how they'd like to use their mobiles for shopping 42% would like to receive real-time offers they might be eligible for, 44% want to be able to quickly and easily compare prices, 43% want to gather loyalty points or savings as they shop, and 42% want to receive tailored vouchers or discount codes when instore base on their purchasing history.

So, it seems that in addition to catering for the multi-screen, device agnostic shopper in France, there is a growing need to facilitate the demands of how people there want to use their mobiles when out shopping.

Shoppers don't seem fussed about in-store technology

While modern shopping is changing the number of stores we need, it is also changing how we're using them. Now, although the former is certainly the case in France,  what became clear from the findings of our research is that shoppers are not embracing the technology that blends together the digital and physical realms of retailing. Planet Retail found that a mere 11% had used a kiosk when in a retailer's store to view their website for more information, and, standing just an inch above it  only 14% had interacted with a member of staff equipped with a tablet computer to do the same thing. The amount of respondents using another device to digitise the store was also low, with just 17% saying they would like to engage with an interactive display. Although not greatly used, for now at least, these displays are a great way for retailers to link their customers' physical and digital experiences of shopping together.

Despite this seeming reluctance from the in-store shopper in order to accommodate changing consumer habits the store needs to be rejuvenated. Fundamental to this is gaining an understanding of what technology will work for the customer, and where it needs to be placed. Technology cannot simply be implemented for technology sake, but rather must meet the needs of how the individual consumer likes to shop.

Store crucial in delivering flexibility and choice when it comes to fulfilment

The role of the store in the omnichannel equation in France is about providing flexibility and choice when it comes to fulfilment. Currently 54% of shoppers in France have their online purchases delivered to a collection point, such as a local convenience store or a retailer's warehouse/internet-only store. The proportion using click & collect here is similar to that of other European countries at 5%. As the home place of the Drive concept, it is not surprising that 15% of French shoppers say they've used them. Not especially high you might think, but when compared to the 6% of UK online shoppers who have leveraged the service, the popularity in France is far more apparent.

The role of the store when it comes to fulfilment is abundantly clear in catering to the modern consumer. 45% of shoppers' retailer of choice is influenced by being offered more flexible delivery times and options and, just marginally fewer, 44% of respondents choice of retailer is influenced by the ability to pick-up their purchases from convenient locations. What really hammers home the role of stores is the fact that the choice of retailer for half of those questioned is influenced by being allowed to return unwanted items purchased online to their nearest store.  This is not to say of course that home delivery is not important. 77% of online shoppers choose this option, with 46% of respondents' retailer choice influenced by the offer of same- or next-day delivery.  

Social media not a huge influencer of spend – at least not yet

With 28% of those questioned taking information on social media into account when making a purchasing decision and 65% saying that social media is not a port of call when researching a brand or retailer, there does not seem to be a pressing need for retailers in France to leverage social networks to nurture advocates. That said, with 48% saying they're more influenced by peer reviews and recommendations than social media, retailers would be well served to encourage consumer generated content, such as reviews and recommendations, while rewarding social sharing. The need to engage in open and honest conversations with the customer is becoming more important, especially when talking about younger shoppers or the so-called 'millennials'. Brands looking to target this group must realise that they're the ones in control of the conversation or its distribution and as such need to interact and engage with this consumer group in a way that makes sense to them.

To conclude

Consumers in France, much like their peers in the rest of Europe, do not see a separation between different channels but rather engage with a brand as a whole.

Although not as 'omni' as their peers in the UK or Germany, they're  expecting increasingly seamless shopping experiences. Looking at the results of Planet Retail's shopper research it is evident that delighting shoppers in France requires focusing on the blending of the digital-physical; catering for the always-on consumer, providing flexibility on fulfilment, and delivering more personalised, relevant experiences.

Malcolm Pinkerton is research director for eCommerce at Planet Retail. He will focus on the online retail situation in different countries, in his regular Essential Retail column over the coming months.

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