French grocer Carrefour revealed earlier this week that it has entered into a strategic partnership with Google – a first in European food retail.

The tie-up is a significant statement of intent by newish Carrefour chief executive Alexandre Bompard, not only in the domestic market but globally as a result of how ingrained Google will become in the Carrefour business.

On the surface, the deal might appear to be a route to making Carrefour products available for purchase on the Google shopping results page.

But this partnership is far more significant. There are three pillars:

  • Understanding how the voice-activated Google Assistant and connected speakers such as Google Home can enhance the Carrefour customer experience.
  • An initial shift to 1,000 Carrefour staff working together using the ‘G Suite’ and, in time, 160,000 people. The G Suite includes Hangout video calling and products such as Sheets, an online spreadsheet that allows multiple users to update it in real time. This will be supplemented by an extensive training programme to drive a culture of “quick decision making and agility”.
  • Google Cloud AI experts and Carrefour technical engineers will work together to design, build and test new consumer experiences in a purpose-built innovation lab opening in Paris this summer.

So why is this so significant, what does it need to work and what does it mean for the broader retail industry?

Changing how people shop

‘Front end’ website changes can and do impact overall revenues. That can be seen in everything from tools that streamline store address look-ups to those that provide a detailed zoom option on product images.

However, the driver of true digital transformation is broader than that. In the case of Carrefour and Google, it will be a business culture driven by a partnership with a technology giant.

To work it needs to be a partnership that pushes teams from both the tech powerhouse and the grocery giant to lean on their experience and use it to change the way people shop.

“Tech giants are at the heart of consumers’ everyday lives. By using their strengths, retailers can continue to capitalise on their own”

The culture that underpins it needs to encourage day-to-day use of innovative products that bring teams across the business together, allowing them to solve complex problems quickly.

With these factors in motion, there is likely to be less internal resistance to implementing new customer-facing technologies such as AI and the ‘connected home’ because technology will be front of mind.

That should allow Carrefour to be first to market, which would be a powerful advantage at a time of when the pace of change in retail is more rapid than ever.

This partnership should enable Carrefour to transform not only the way it does business, but to push boundaries in how retailers and customers interact.

You can see it happening elsewhere in retail. Take, for example, Revieve. This software allows beauty brands to base their personalised recommendations on the data they gather from a customers’ selfie.

Strength to strength

With Google Home, Carrefour will have access to a wealth of customer data and there is a real opportunity to be at the forefront of personalisation.

“Technology and retail are coming together everywhere you look”

Rather than seeing this partnership solely as a technology investment by a French grocer, the retail industry should view it as an example of the level of collaboration needed to implement a culture of digital transformation.

The tech giants are at the heart of consumers’ everyday lives. By using their phenomenal strengths, retailers can continue to capitalise on their own strengths powered by highly functional ways of working.

Technology and retail are coming together everywhere you look. At the Zara branch in Westfield Stratford, click-and-collect orders can be brought to customers in less than 15 seconds from a ‘mini warehouse’ in the store. Or shoppers can stand in front of a digital mirror that shows them how they would look wearing endless combinations of clothes.

Just as the bricks-and-mortar store is rapidly evolving, consumers are very likely in future to have an immersive experience at home that replicates the sort of features seen in Zara, thanks to partnerships such as Carrefour and Google.