Retailers should never rush to implement trendy solutions, either for sales or logistics. You first need to ascertain whether these solutions suit your product lines, and decide how far they will help you respond to customer expectations.


Interview with Paul Delaoutre, CEO of the Department Store section of the Lafayette Group, at the New Cities Summit conference, held at La Defense (Paris) 14 – 16 May.

L'Atelier: As a retailer, is it difficult to choose the most appropriate new technologies?

Paul Delaoutre:Yes, indeed. You have to avoid rushing into everything that’s new. For several years now we’ve been focussing on the essentials, avoiding making silly mistakes with trendy technologies. For example, we aren’t using QR codes in our stores. Choosing which technologies to implement requires thorough study. We have, for example, decided to concentrate on centralised stock management, which enables us to know, for every point of sale, the inventory we have available.We adopted the same procedure when we reorganised our customer data. Over time we merged the files coming via different channels, whether from online shopping, from the store, from after sales service, or from our Wedding Gift list service.

L'Atelier: What are the main questions to ask before deploying a given strategy?

Paul Delaoutre:You need to ask yourself: how can we best serve the customer? These days the customer is increasingly unwilling to put up with a lack of information.  So we need to make use of technology to improve his or her in-store experience. In short, you have to appreciate the fact that the customer has six major expectations. One, he wants to know how to get to the store and two, how to find his way around once he’s there. So in the coming weeks we’re going to launch an application which will help him find his way around at our Galeries Lafayette store on Boulevard Haussmann. At the entrance to the store there will also be iPads available. Thirdly, from time to time s/he’ll be looking for an item we don’t currently have in stock. That’s when centralised stock management comes into its own as it means we can have the item delivered to her. And then, s/he wants to be able to pay quickly, to contact after-sales service and be able to buy online, from home. You don’t necessarily need spectacular technology to do all this. Our customer file allows us, for example, to offer to exchange a product without demanding a receipt as we already know everything about her.

L'Atelier: So the most innovative technologies aren’t always the most useful?

Paul Delaoutre:Exactly. But of course we do keep a close eye on developments. The rationale for introducing mobile payments, for example, is still too close to call. You have to bear in mind that whatever you implement must be good for the customer. We’re therefore considering replacing the mannequins with video screens, as this could result in bottom-line benefits: lower costs, changing the display more often, and less dependence on mannequin dressers. We’re also looking at installing changing cabins with communication facilities so that a customer can call for an item of clothing and try it on before making a purchase. Today we’re progressing with technology step by step, winning small battles, which means that we’re learning as we go forward.