Retailers need to evolve in line with changing consumer habits, says Alistair Stewart, as Carrefour has now acknowledged

The news on many e-merchants’ lips is Carrefour’s foray into the multichannel arena to market its non-food offering. One could say it’s a rather late arrival, considering its counterparts in the UK are already committed to the multichannel approach. But better late than never.

Despite being the second-largest retailer in the world, Carrefour has been underperforming in the last decade. The cause is obvious: fewer customers buying in-store. It will now be hoping that its partnership with e-tailer Pixmania, which will see the rollout of website and reserve & ­collect services across its top four markets in Europe, redresses the balance.

The retailers faces an uphill challenge, though. The online food and non-food market is becoming much more competitive, and it will need to learn fast as it adopts a multichannel structure. Henry Ford, the man who brought motor cars to the masses, famously declared: “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.” So it is with online and there’s a lot more these days to multichannel marketing than simply bolting on a website. Mobile, for example, is becoming an increasingly important option. In this country alone, around 11.5% of shoppers use their mobiles to research before shopping, according to Verdict & Ovum and 14% of food retailers use m-commerce.

Of course, such changes to the retailer landscape are down to a shift in consumer habits, which in turn are dependent on evolving cultural and technological factors. So it is important for retailers to adopt a more flexible model to suit their business. It is crucial they are aware of the different ways people approach them. Consistency of brand communication across all platforms is a given. The key to managing this is a model that puts the customer at the centre, with brands gaining a common view of customers across ­the channels.

It’s an exciting time for Carrefour to plant its roots in the multichannel soil. But it will need to make sure its messaging and branding are consistent across Europe to deliver a ­shopping experience that attracts consumers.