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Several of France’s traditional retail giants—including Fnac, Carrefour and La Redoute—are now major players in the online world too, welcoming millions of consumers to their websites each month. But smaller, local stores have always played a key role in French shopping habits as well. How are they faring in the digital age?
For the second year running, local search specialist Mappy worked with the marketing research firm BVA to investigate evolving shopping behavior in France and how “connected shoppers” interact with their local stores.
The research confirmed that multichannel shopping and buying are here to stay in the country. Nine in 10 (91%) internet users in France said they researched products online before buying in a store; that share had risen 13 percentage points since 2013.
This option doesn’t exclude other retail pathways, of course. Almost all (97%) internet users polled for the study said their whole purchase journey often took place online, compared with 88% in 2013. And more than two-thirds (69%)—compared with 63% the previous year—said they also carried out some research and buying entirely in a physical store.
Showrooming—checking out products in-store and then buying online—was the least common combination, Mappy found. But 44% of study participants did this, too, compared with 41% in 2013.
Not surprisingly—in a country with lingering economic problems—price was the primary motivation buyers cited for purchasing online, while the ability to see or touch products was the chief reason for buying an item in-store.
But the research also found consumers were quite prepared to be “opportunistic” if the product they wanted wasn’t available in their local store. At that point the internet played a larger role, as shoppers searched for other physical or online stores able to provide the item.
For many observers in the digital industry, such results aren’t really surprising. But France’s smaller retailers are often behind the curve, judging from the report. According to Mappy, only 46% of local retailers had a website. More crucially, the retailers polled for the study believed that just 14% of consumers carried out internet research before visiting a local store—a fraction of the 91% of web users who said they actually did this.
In the longer term, catering for multichannel shoppers could well be vital for local merchants. eMarketer estimates that over 70% of France’s internet users ages 14 and older will make a digital purchase this year, and the number of digital buyers in the country will pass 31 million. Most of those consumers still rely on local stores to some extent, and the retailers that don’t adapt to their customers’ online-plus-offline shopping norms will be missing a trick.
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