Urbanisation. Smaller households. Declining car ownership. The erosion of in-home consumption. This list goes on. All factors meaning that creating a credible strategy for operating a smaller store format in city centres has become something of an imperative for retailers the world over.

Some, like Tesco, have probably nailed it in all fairness, while others – such as Walmart – are still in the phase of figuring it out, trying to adapt a big box supply chain to the rigours of smaller boxes in annoying places. The challenges for retailers attempting to crack the urban marketplace are manifold: real estate costs, logistical issues like narrow backstreets and delivery curfews, oddly shaped and sized buildings, security and shrink, assortment, labour scheduling and pricing to name just a few.

Carrefour has, over the years, assembled quite an impressive arsenal in terms of addressing the urban opportunity, featuring home delivery, click & collect, urban hypermarkets, Market supermarkets and City c-stores. These have been complemented in recent times through the addition of speciality organic and gourmet concepts, but I haven’t seen any of them so I’ll shut up.

What I have seen recently, however, was a rather jaunty example of the Carrefour Market concept in the Saint Marcel area of Paris. Straight off – I really like the fact that the location is displayed on the storefront: this is a nice touch that hints at belonging and being part of the fabric of the community, an approach that is being adopted, for example, by the Co-op in the UK as it progresses its store refurb programme.

This is just the first of many impressive features to enjoy as you walk through the supermarket. Despite being housed in an intricately labyrinthine two-floor footprint, Carrefour has managed to preserve a logical sense of flow and narrative as one journeys through the store. Also, overcoming the obvious space constraints, a compelling range has been assembled and there is enough breathing space to accentuate fresh, create deft displays and ensure that navigability is not compromised.

Saint Marcel is one of the more innovative of Carrefour’s new stores over the last few years, the convenience-led proposition really raising the bar in terms of local retailing. With a great deal of inventiveness and pleasing visual merchandising, this Carrefour Market proves that it is possible to combine national scale with local nuances to effectively serve the local community and meet varied shopper missions.

The look and feel of the store leans towards the premium, with excellent touches such as exposed brickwork and well-deployed lighting. The fixtures are a mix of contemporary flair and playful retro: eggs are housed in a feature cabinet complete with hens and chickens, while the potential tedium of laundry detergent is alleviated through the deployment of a similar cabinet display festooned with baby clothes.

Compared to equivalent urban stores in other countries, service counters and the produce sections have not sacrificed excellence for efficiency. The produce department and fish counter – although compact – would still humble their peers in full-size UK supermarkets. What I love about this place is you could be in and out for lunch in about three minutes, or you could have a good hour in here, leisurely selecting the ingredients for a sumptuous feast.

While the attractions of Parisian soccer are becoming debatable, the attractions of Parisian retail aren’t. Go take a look.

Bryan Roberts, Global Insight Director

similar articles