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.
Exactly, we don’t need a new chain. Moreover, this is killing the small shops here and there especially in the Beirut area
I think one factor that will make for the success of the carrefour is the financial weakness of the TSC group right now. From what my mom tells me, they have major issues with suppliers.
while big chains such as carrefour do offer the luxury of going to one place to get all your groceries and perhaps garments, they do so at the expense of the “dekaneh” and local businesses that are the pillars of a striving middle class. Once the local businesses can no longer strive and compete with the multinational chains, which is already happening, you can bet that our local economy will be even weaker and our middle class is vanishing.
In addition to that, such multinational chains weaken whatever local production, manufacturing, and distribution services remain.
I will always prefer to pay the additional 500 L.L. or even 1,000 L.L. and support the local product, or even the local “dekaneh”. this way I know I am supporting a family that I know and providing an opportunity for the local economy to grow. and I do not think that this is comparable to the job opportunities that that chain will provide at minimum wage for the few hundred lebanese. Why? because guess who is committed to this country and its future? guess who will stick around when the economy goes bad? gues who is reinvesting in this land and its economy?
I have to say, the questions in this article are the most insightful I’ve read on any Lebanese blog post in the past few weeks at least. Really very interesting.
I’d still rather shop at Spinneys, even if Carrefour is 20,000LL at the till).
Supermarket retail companies have always been main economy drivers (just look at how supermarket chains dominate the Fortune 500 companies), so it’s always interesting to look at their operations in Lebanon. Thanks!
Sorry, 60% of my comment got deleted while posting for some reason. Would you mind deleting it please? Thanks!
It seems to be quite complete. If the above is not the full comment, let me know and I’ll delete them all.
I think Carreffour has a good chance to become competititve and reduce the market share of spinneys especially after the recent scandals that hit spinneys regarding how it treats its employees! I think Carrefour should captialize on that and show a good social image to gain responsible clientele that appreciates a company based on good values. I honestly shop at spinneyes because of its low prices after comparing them to Bou Khalil and TSC. but I always felt guilty when shopping at spinneys. so I am happy now I have a new option and I hope that it will truly have the lowest prices like its marketing says.
You are okay with getting commercial messages on your phone?
We don’t get a say in that.
Heh I would definitely complain :). What about advertisement calls? Are companies allowed to call you to advertise their product or seduce you into buying magazines/products? Come to think of it, if my local evangelists would message me instead of ringing the door bell at inconvenient moments, I’d see it as an improvement 😀
I have always opted for Spinneys in hazmieh or elsewhere for the car park easiness.
Have always thought to avoid this big mall for just some grocery. Fed up with escalators and fetching for the place to park and where did i leave it.
Lately, I had to go to Carrefour for some reason and found that the same basket ALWAYS costed me twice as much at Spinneys than Carrefour.
Also lately, I found that the car wash service was impeccable and less expensive then dirty gas stations.
Good for you if you like your dekanje style, I’d think twice before shopping else now.