Carrefour was one of the simple pleasures of my life in France. It was close to my apartment – a two minute walk. I would find everything that I needed among its not so numerous shelves: the place was as small as a mini-market in Lebanese standards.
Carrefour also represented an entire shift in my thinking paradigm when it comes to grocery shopping. For starters, they didn’t offer plastic bags for your purchases for free. I no longer needed hypermarkets to find mundane things I had come to believe only existed there. But most importantly, it made me deviate from buying the brands I had grown used to in favor of its own offering: the brand Carrefour.
Let’s take a simple example: fruit yoghurt. 12 Carrefour little packets of the substance cost €1.23 whereas half that amount of other brands such as Danone or Nestlé cost at least 3 times that much.
This quickly perpetuated to my purchases of my entire grocery: from cheese to bread to toilet paper. The amount of money I was saving up because of that kept me from thinking about any potential difference in quality which I frankly didn’t even encounter: the brand Carrefour offered stuff which were equal if not sometimes better than the more expensive alternatives.
Today, Carrefour is opening in Lebanon in Beirut’s City Center – a new mall in Hazmieh, because places outside of Beirut and its suburbs are not supposed to get malls. It has ads spreading all the way to Tripoli announcing the place. This is proof if you don’t believe me:
Is Carrefour overdoing the marketing blitz? Definitely. How so? Well, ask yourself this simple question: regardless of how much money you’d be saving, would you be willing to drive 81km in Lebanon in order to buy grocery?
But that’s not the major hurdle Carrefour will be facing in Lebanon: it’s getting an entire country to have the paradigm shift I had when I stayed in France, something that other brands tried to do and failed.
Spinneys, for instance, does the same thing Carrefour will be doing in a few days: it offers its own tissues, its own grains, soda, chips, etc…. But people rarely buy them because we, as Lebanese, have somehow associated the cheapness of the brand and the fact that it isn’t as trustworthy compared to others with it not being good enough.
Carrefour, which is sending text messages to almost everyone in Lebanon, will not be cheaper than any of their other already present alternatives if people refuse to buy its brand which begets the question: will it be any different and do we really need another chain in the country?
Besides, will the Carrefour brand be cheaper than what the market currently offers? For instance, will Carrefour yoghurt be cheaper than the one Taanayel offers? Or will it feature a price hike because it’s “signé” and imported from “Paghis” à la Paul and Fauchon and other French outlets in Lebanon?
Moreover, the success of Carrefour in Europe stems from it being accessible to everyone through small shops like the one I described previously. Few are the Carrefour hypermarkets across France but many are the mini markets, which makes any customer’s shopping experience more personal and less hectic.
In fact, the entire city of Lille, France’s 4th in size, has only one major Carrefour store in the city’s main mall Euralille. However, it has dozens of smaller Carrefours spread around the city and its suburbs offering almost the same thing.
Will Carrefour adopt the same approach in Lebanon? Or will it be the same thing all over again: spreading across the country in huge chains that won’t offer anything different from what’s already present?
If Carrefour wants to spread in Lebanon and offer a true alternative to the Lebanese, shouldn’t it start differently from what others did and not follow up with the current trend of you finding everything you need in malls only?
If Carrefour moves to Tripoli for instance, it will have a very hard time battling it out for market share with the wildly popular Spinneys. But if it offered smaller shops around the city, then people might end up making it their go-to place.
Perhaps market research showed some room for an alternative. But I don’t think the alternative is necessarily another grocery chain but a whole new approach to what’s already here: to get people to buy cheaper and equally good products, make things more accessible and make them need driving from Achrafieh and nearby Spinneys or TSC to said alternative.
I don’t think Carrefour will do that in its present form.